June 2001 Press
For Immediate Release Contact: Martha Trombley
Legislature On Passing Election Reform Laws
Secretary Markowitz Calls Election
Reform a Major Accomplishment of the Legislative Sesssion
Deborah Markowitz, Secretary of State
Montpelier. Secretary of State Deb Markowitz today offered her
congratulations to the Vermont legislature for making a great start in reforming
Vermontís Election Laws. This legislative session Governor Howard Dean signed
into law three Acts relating to the conduct of elections in Vermont. Calling it
a "major accomplishment of the session," Markowitz said, "the House Local
Government Committee and the Senate Government Operations Committee worked hard
this year to craft and pass bills that will modernize and improve Vermontís
election laws and enhance public confidence in our democracy."
"At a time when our country is grappling with the need to improve our voting
systems, and public cynicism about politics and government is at an all time
high, it is more important than ever to ensure that Vermontís elections are
conducted in a free and fair manner," Markowitz said.
In addition to cleaning up Vermontís election laws by repealing out-of-date
provisions and updating others to comply with modern election procedures, this
newly signed legislation makes some important changes from prior law to start
July 1st of this year:
- The new law updates our absentee ballot statutes to encourage more
Vermonters to vote by absentee ballot. Among the revisions, the new law
changes the terminology from absentee ballot voting to "absentee or early
voting." This is designed to dispel any remaining notions that absentee
ballot voting is only for voters who are sick or disabled. The law also
allows voters to pick up an absentee ballot at the clerkís office and to
return it at a later date. (In the last election nearly 20% of Vermontís
voters chose to vote using an absentee ballot. Markowitz says she expects
that this trend will continue to grow.)
- The new law seeks to prevent voter fraud by increasing the state
penalties from $50 to $1000, making voter fraud a criminal felony.
- The law also responds to problems with the motor voter law by allowing
towns to divide the voter checklist into an active and an inactive list. The
law also directs the Department of Motor Vehicles to provide registration
applications with an extra copy for the voter, with language directing the
voter to keep their copy to bring to the polls as proof of registration.
Local boards of civil authority were also granted authority to add people to
the checklist on the day of the election if they swear/affirm that they
registered within the required time frame.
"While the legislature made a great first step with election reform this year
there are a few important issues it must still grapple with next year,"
Markowitz said. According to Secretary Markowitz the two most important issues
remaining for legislative consideration are:
- Increasing the time between the primary and general election so that
ballots can be printed on time. Currently, ballots must
be delivered to the town clerks 35 days prior to the general election in
order to make it possible for overseas and absentee voters to participate.
Vermont law provides only 8 days between the time all information for the
ballots has to be certified to the Secretary of State and the time ballots
must be in the hands of the town clerks. For this reason it has become
impossible to find printers willing or able to print Vermontís general
election ballots. To solve this pressing problem the legislature must look
at whether to move the primary back to some earlier date in the fall or
spring, or to change some of the other filing deadlines to allow more time
for ballot preparation and printing.
- Creating a statewide voter file. One of the
principal concerns about the security of Vermontís elections is that we have
no way of knowing whether a person is voting in more than one jurisdiction.
That is because each town currently maintains its own checklist. Without a
statewide voter file there is no way to check for voters who might vote in
more than one jurisdiction.
Markowitz said, "the debate nationally is whether we can best prevent a
recurrence of the problems we saw during last yearís presidential election by
granting more federal control over our election administration. Vermontís
experience proves that this is not necessary. As we identify ways our election
systems could use improvement, our legislature has shown that it can work
closely with our office to respond quickly and effectively."