Douglas Considers Veto Of Primary Date Change

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he’s deciding whether to veto legislation that moves up the date of Vermont’s primary election by 3 weeks.

Supporters of the bill say it’s needed to comply with new federal regulations. But Douglas says there are other options that lawmakers aren’t considering.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Although the issue of moving up Vermont’s primary date has been considered at the Statehouse for a number of years, a new federal regulation requiring that general election ballots be sent to overseas voters within 45 days of the November election has provided the impetus for action this year.

Vermont’s primary is scheduled for September 14th and this date doesn’t allow the state to comply with the new federal rules.

The House and Senate have given their approval to a bill moving the primary up by 3 weeks – to August 24th.  Supporters argue the change is needed to make certain that the 1500 Vermont Guard troops serving in Afghanistan have an opportunity to vote.

(Kinzel) But the fate of the bill is uncertain because Douglas might veto it:

(Douglas) "There are alternatives – options that are available by waiver through the federal law and I don’t think we’ve explored them all. Legislators just immediately jumped to moving the primary into a time of the summer when folks are still on vacation, going to the fairs and having a good time and not focused on elections."

(Kinzel) Instead of moving the date, Douglas is backing a plan to use electronic voting for overseas voters:

(Douglas) "This is the 21st century. I’ve been to Afghanistan – I can tell you that the mail service to Bora Bora isn’t too expeditious and I think we ought to be using electronic voting."

(Kinzel) Secretary of State Deb Markowitz says the Governor’s plan simply won’t work:

(Markowitz) "Think about it. We’ve got 1,500 Vermonters who are serving in remote areas of Afghanistan – they don’t have access to email. Those Vermonters have the same right to vote as you and I. I’m offended by Governor Douglas’ suggestion that I should be directed to ask for a waiver. I don’t believe we should be asking for a waiver for our Vermont military servicemen and women and their right to vote."

(Kinzel) And Markowitz says she doesn’t think moving up the primary date will affect voter turnout:

(Markowitz) "30% of our voters are choosing to vote absentee or early ballot – that we’re really not going to keep anybody from participating. There will be plenty of time for folks on vacation to get a ballot before they go or after they get back."

(Kinzel) Douglas is expected to make a final decision about a possible veto once the House and Senate have reached agreement on a final version of the legislation – that could happen before the end of the month.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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