20210303_bta_Calais voting

Calais Town Clerk Judy Fitch Robert sorts school ballots in the Calais Town Hall in March.

The big lie, perpetuated by former President Trump and some of his supporters, is our elections are not secure. These dangerous and disingenuous claims are made without evidence to support them. The former president and his supporters have filed more than 60 lawsuits across the country to try to steal the election. All but one were dismissed or ruled against because of a lack of evidence.

The claim that mailing a ballot to every active, registered voter will make our election system less secure is grounded in the same unfounded logic, yet the same trumped-up voter fraud fearmongering is being used to try and stop S.15, which will make the mailing of ballots to every voter a permanent feature of general elections. In reality, Vermont’s elections process is very secure.

In fact, the MIT Election Performance Index state rankings for 2016 and 2018 ranked Vermont #1 and #3, respectively, in election administration.

According to the experts, the 2020 election was the most secure election in U.S. history, and the most scrutinized. Across the country, interest in and observation of election procedure has never been higher.

As states and voters increasingly relied on vote by mail, we did not see any evidence of increased rates of voting irregularities or election rigging.

What we did see was record-shattering turnout despite the health challenges presented by a global pandemic.

Vermont voters overwhelmingly embraced the steps we took to make our elections safe and secure. More than 75% cast the ballots mailed to them early or by mail, and voter turnout was the highest in history.

If enacted, S.15 will make the mailing of ballots to all Vermont voters a feature of future general elections. Its passage received broad support by Republicans, Democrats, progressives and independents.

Our democracy is stronger when we all participate. The mailing of general election ballots to all voters will make our elections more accessible for all Vermonters, regardless of political party or viewpoint.

Voting by mail has been a part of U.S. elections since before the Civil War. Many Vermonters serving active duty in the military rely on it to securely cast their ballots. In the past 10-plus years, we have seen voting by mail grow substantially here and across the country.

Yet, rates of fraud have remained the same: infinitesimally small. In Vermont, town clerks referred seven potential cases of 2020 voter abnormalities to my office. Only one was found to be actionable: a voter attempted to vote twice to prove he could dupe the system. He was caught and his test only proved the system works. It was reported, investigated and prosecuted.

If S.15 is enacted, ballots will only be mailed to active registered voters, directly contradicting the ridiculous implication that ballots will be sent carelessly around the state. The post office will not forward ballots for people who have changed addresses; those undeliverable ballots will be returned to the town clerk.

Advancements in technology and policy have made our voter data more accurate than ever. Online and automatic voter registration provides a constant stream of updates as voters relocate, and we receive data from other states when voters move and register.

For an early ballot to be counted, the clerk must receive it in the certificate envelope, with a signed affidavit that the voter is who they say they are. These envelopes contain other voter data, including a unique identification number and barcode specific to that voter.

These certificates are signed under the pains and penalties of perjury. Voting someone else’s ballot is a crime, which carries substantial penalties.

When the clerk receives a ballot, the voter is checked off the entrance checklist as having voted. Since we track the data for every ballot mailed out, if a second ballot shows up anywhere in the state for that voter, we can investigate.

For someone to commit voter fraud, they would need to know where and when to find another voter’s ballot, steal it, perjure themselves by signing the envelope, get it back to the clerk without leaving a trail, and be certain the voter will not attempt to vote or the clerk will not catch on, while facing severe penalties if caught.

All to change the results by a single vote — it’s just not worth the high probability they would be caught.

In the 2020 General Election, we sent ballots out to all Vermont active voters, yet we did not hear of a single instance of voter impersonation.

It would be wrong to lump all opponents of S.15 in with the ‘Stop the Steal’ conspiracy crowd who are using UV lights to search for bamboo fiber on ballots, but the arguments are the same and share a lack of evidence. They also pose the same serious risk: unduly undermining voter confidence in our election process.

Let’s not fall into that trap.

Vermont is poised to become one of the most voter-friendly states in the entire country, at a time when legislatures are using conspiracy theories and outright lies to restrict the constitutional rights of their citizens.

We have an opportunity to do better — and to be a beacon for the nation — showing what truly accessible and secure elections look like.

Jim Condos is Vermont’s secretary of state.

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