Vermont’s primary election date, the second Tuesday in September, is one of the latest in the country. While this has worked for Vermont for many years, it does not fit with the new federal election rules. The new Military Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, or MOVE, require states to send out overseas ballots at least 45 days prior to the general election. This year, the second Tuesday falls on September 14th, leaving only 49 days between the primary and the general election. Prior to the general election, the votes need to be verified and new ballots formatted and printed to include the winners of the primary as well as any independent or minor party candidates. The current dates would leave only 4 days to complete what is typically an 18-day process.
Last April, the Vermont Senate addressed this problem by passing a bill that would move the primary date from September 14th to August 24th. The House Government Operations committee took up the bill this year, hearing testimony from a variety of sources before passing it out of committee.
The debate on the floor was quite lively, very partisan and revolved around a few central issues. Those against changing the date to August 24th, expressed concern that our already low 11-12% turn out for primaries would be further reduced by moving the date before Labor Day. They also felt we had other options. One suggestion was to have the state apply for a hardship waiver. The second was to have ballots sent to our soldiers electronically and it would take less than $10,000 to get the state up and running by the fall. A third option was to move primaries to a caucus vote rather than a ballot vote, saving the state about $200,000 and the fourth was to make no changes and risk paying a penalty. In addition, Adjutant General Michael Dubie had testified that he was interested in electronic voting. The cons reminded us that this is about “supporting our troops.”
Those in support of the bill indicated it was very unlikely we would meet the stringent criteria for the 2010 waiver. In addition, there will be no waivers permitted by 2012. Allowing our troops to vote electronically was as compelling as it was problematic. First, 24 town clerks in this state are without Internet access or email so would not be able to participate. Secondly, security and privacy issues have yet to be resolved and estimates to establish electronic voting were closer to $500,000. Caucus voting remained interesting but unresolved. In addition, 59% of the town clerks who responded to a poll supported the move to August 24th. The pros reminded us that this is about “supporting our troops.”
At the end of the day, I voted against the amendment to provide for electronic voting because I believed the evidence that we were simply not ready – yet. I voted for the change of date in order to comply with the new federal law. I also figured those of us on vacation were more easily accommodated than our soldiers overseas. And, of course, I wanted to “support our troops.”
The politics? To me, it’s just a noisy grade B movie in a very small state. The bill heads back to the Senate for approval of a few technical changes and if accepted, will then go to the Governor.