January is a time for reflection and resolution. It is a time to
count our successes and to consider opportunities for improvement. This
past election cycle gives me, as Secretary of State, just that sort of
In Florida we saw a dramatic demonstration of what can happen when
our election laws and procedures are not kept up to date. As disturbing
as it was to watch - and with so much at stake for the country - it left
us feeling a bit smug here in Vermont. We don't have these problems.
The sloppiness, confusion and partisan gamesmanship of the Florida
election and recount could never happen here. For one thing, it has been
more than ten years since we got rid of the Vote-a-matic punch card
machines that were the source of many of the problems down south. They
were just too inaccurate. (They were only used in four Vermont
communities.) Most of our towns still hand count paper ballots, but,
because of population concentration in our cities, the majority of
Vermonters now cast their votes using optical scan machines. These
machines have a very low failure rate - less than one percent - and
every rejected ballot is automatically hand counted.
In addition to having better hardware than we saw in Florida our
elections are conducted outside the partisan arena. Vermont's town
election workers are balanced by party. All of our recounts are hand
counts. They are conducted at the Superior Court, also by politically
balanced teams. The judge is available to make a determination about any
ballot on which the team cannot agree. We also count every ballot where
we can determine the intent of the voter – even if they do not follow
the directions on the ballot and, for example, circle the names rather
than checking off the box.
Our absentee ballot system is also more clearly organized. Ballots
must arrive by the close of Election Day to be counted, no matter what
their postmark. As long as they are properly requested, and returned
with the proper endorsement by the voter, they will be counted.
We must, however, beware of too much self-congratulation. Our system
is good, but there are still opportunities for improvement. First and
foremost, we need to provide more time between the primary and the
general election so that our ballots can be printed and delivered to our
town clerks in time. This past election we had trouble finding a printer
who was willing - or able - to try and meet the present tight schedule.
This timing issue is particularly important for our service men and
women and other overseas voters. We need enough time for the absentee
ballots to be mailed out, completed and then returned by Election Day.
We also need to clean up our election laws. We must repeal out of
date provisions and update the others in order to comply with modern
election procedures. We must also respond to glitches in the Federal
Motor Voter law to ensure that every person who registers before the
statutory deadline is permitted to vote on Election Day.
Finally, we must increase the penalties for voter fraud and put a
statewide voter file in place. At present there is no sure and certain
way to tell if a voter is casting a ballot in more than one district.
The sanctity of our elections is too important to leave to chance.
One of the wonderful things about our state is that Vermont is a
place where we can get things done. In this, the first full week of the
legislative session, I have already had the opportunity to meet with
some of our lawmakers. We have begun the process that will lead to
addressing many of these problems right now, even as we plan for
tackling some of the others in the very near future. It is a great way
to start a new year. In addition we have a national mandate and will
likely have matching funds to implement improvements in state elections
administration. But please don't hesitate to let me know if you have
comments or ideas about how we can make our election process even
In our democracy every vote counts. It is part of my job to ensure
that all the votes get counted.