In just over three weeks, the tally will be complete on which Vermonters will represent their respective parties going into the General Election in November.

This is an unusual primary. There are several factors in play:

First, there is a decent crop of individuals seeking statewide office, or hoping to serve in the Legislature. We commend those people who are stepping up in such challenging times. It takes courage to have a vision for leadership when the fabric of our political landscape is threadbare. Anyone running for public office — even at the local level — face a level of scrutiny, judgment and criticism that can feel intimidating, daunting and intrusive. Add to that the red, blue and green party lines and issues that often force well-rounded candidates into square, rigid holes.

Second, this primary sets the tone for the direction of the state as a whole. With the pandemic continuing to take its toll on the state’s economy and its widespread effects on education, workforce development, economic development and health care, to name a few, candidates can provide a vision for hope and progress, but the reality is that every conversation comes back to recovery and how Vermont affords the first steps after a crippling six months. No candidate is going to be against recovery, but what distinguishes their direction is how they say they plan for the difficulties ahead and the pragmatic approaches required to move forward — and definitely not backward.

Lastly, this primary is about a shot over the bow. On Aug. 12, we will likely know what tone Vermonters are setting for the upcoming presidential race in November. While President Trump and Democrat Joe Biden do not appear on the primary ballots anywhere, the statewide results, which at this point seem to suggest they will be overwhelming, should serve as solid preamble to what’s next. In fact, statewide candidates in this primary are banking on a large voter turnout in order to boost their chances in the face of unknowns.

And that’s just what is happening.

According to Seven Days this week, 113,735 residents requested absentee ballots by July 20. That exceeds the 107,637 who voted by any means in the 2018 primary and is nearing the 120,132 who voted in the 2016 primary, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Allegedly, more than 2,000 already have been returned.

Vermonters have already requested more absentee ballots than voted in the 2018 primary, which saw 5,051 vote by absentee.

Secretary of State Jim Condos has attributed the rise in absentee voting to the risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic and the national political storm.

Condos’ office this week indicated it would mail every registered voter in the state a ballot prior to the General Election. Many states have expanded access to mail-in voting as a safer alternative to in-person voting.

As of now, nearly 180 million Americans who are eligible to vote would be able to cast a ballot by mail. Of those, 22 million live in states that will accept fear of the coronavirus as an excuse to vote absentee, or have switched to become “no excuse” states.

Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia already allowed anyone to vote absentee. But many of these places are making the process easier.

For voters in nine states, in-person voting remains the only option unless they can provide an approved reason not related to fear of the coronavirus. Traditional absentee excuses include military deployments or illness.

President Trump has already made numerous unfounded claims that mail-in voting will create widespread abuse and fraud, setting the stage for a messy November regardless.

Fortunately, his suspicions are out of step with the views of election experts, including Condos, who continue to tout the process and the protocols in place to protect the election process.

The bottom line is this: Your vote matters tremendously. You can still wait until Aug. 11 to cast a vote, but you also can join tens of thousands of Vermonters who are requesting a ballot from the safety of their home. Call your town clerk today, and help chart the course for the state — and the nation.

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