Vermont took a big step today.
All signs suggest Gov. Phil Scott will sign into law a bill that makes universally mailed ballots a permanent feature of Vermont’s general elections. The bill also allows voters to fix or “cure” a ballot if it has been deemed defective.
Vermont lawmakers celebrated the moment that would make voting easier in the future.
“When we make voting more accessible, more people vote. When we make voting more accessible, democracy better reflects the will of the people. Voting is one of the most sacred rights and responsibilities that we have,” stated Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint on Tuesday. “From same day registration to early voting, our state has a strong track record of making it easier for people to vote. I’m proud that this Legislature is contributing to that legacy by making mail-in voting the rule for general elections from now on. We have to do all we can to ensure that all eligible voters can easily cast their votes and have equal participation in the work of our state and our nation.”
“The passage of our bill sends a clear signal that we believe our democracy is stronger when we make it more accessible and open to all Vermonters,” said House Speaker Jill Krowinski. “(This bill) counters the prevailing trend across the U.S. where state legislatures are curtailing voter access with more restrictive election laws.”
According to the speaker, the Brennan Center for Justice reported that legislators had introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states. The 2020 general election saw a 74% participation rate (from 68% in 2016), as well as a dramatic spike in early-voting to 75% (from 30% in 2016) and this bill creates the opportunity for strong voter turnout for years to come.
Critics of the bill have been quick to counter that it puts voting at risk.
But Secretary of State Jim Condos will have none of it.
“We should be proud of our brave state. While others are working to make it harder to vote, in Vermont we are working to remove barriers to the ballot box for all eligible voters, while strengthening the security and integrity of the voting process,” Condos noted Tuesday. “I firmly believe that our democracy is stronger when we all vote. Your vote is your voice, and S.15 will make using that voice even more accessible for all Vermonters.”
Now the bill lands on the desk of the Republican governor, who has indicated that he is likely to sign it.
That is good news for all Vermonters. The support has been widespread.
S.15 was passed with strong support from Democrats, Republicans, progressives, and independents.
Condos noted that in addition to the mailing of ballots to all active registered voters, “S.15 contains other important voter provisions, including new pathways for voters to cure defective ballots if they make a mistake on their ballot return, as well as a requirement to study and report back on further improvements to access, including expanding mail voting to primaries and local elections.”
That is the kind of democracy we all expect.
The bill does not remove any existing voting options, including voting at the polls on Election Day, but provides voters with new methods of receiving and casting their ballots.
“When you live in a democracy you get better government when every eligible voter is able to participate in elections,” said House Government Operations Chair Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas in a prepared statement. “While many states around the country are passing laws that put barriers in the way of voters, S. 15 makes our democracy stronger by putting a ballot in every voter’s hand.”
“Three out of four Vermont voters cast their ballot early or by mail in 2020 and the turnout was historically high. S.15 builds on that success and incorporates many of the lessons we learned to make future vote-by-mail elections even better,” said Rep. Mike McCarthy. “We must make sure that every vote counts.”
It is worth nothing that nine out of 10 Vermonters support making voting easier, according to Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
“This legislation is one big step toward making Vermont the most voter friendly state in the nation. This is something we can all take pride in, especially given the voter suppression efforts underway in other states,” he said.
Of course, we agree. Defenders of the First Amendment will always yield to the purest forms of democracy. We are not seeing the detractors’ claims that this infringes on the safety of elections. We see this bill as the logical next step toward a more pure process — one that might shout down critics who only use rhetoric as a prop to leverage their own position and marginalize the rights of all Vermonters.
We want our voices heard.
With the governor’s signature, voting will be more accessible. Voters will be heard. And we will again be among those leaders who stand first, able to say we fixed the problem.
(As of the writing of this editorial, the governor had not signed the bill.)