Early voting becomes key issue in Sec. of State race

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(Host) A record number of Vermonters are opting to vote early in this year’s election.

And, as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, the early voting system has emerged as a key issue in this year’s race for Secretary of State.

(Kinzel) One glance in the Montpelier City Clerk’s office tells the story about early voting in 2008.

A narrow room with a long counter has been filled with four voting booths to accommodate the large number of people who are coming in to vote early.

Montpelier City Clerk Charlotte Hoyt thinks that early ballots could account for 40% of all votes tabulated on election day. Hoyt says the early voting system is more work for local clerks but she supports it because she thinks it helps boost voter turnout:

(Hoyt) "I think early voting has become something that people have learned about of course they changed the law as well so it’s taking off really well people don’t want to wait in line is what we’re hearing."

Eugene Bifano is the Republican candidate for Secretary of State. He thinks the system favors incumbents because challengers don’t have enough time to make their case to early voters:

(Bifano) "With the large amount of early voting that’s going on it’s unprecedented you really don’t have a chance to reach all the voters and once somebody’s put their check on that piece of paper and send it in it’s not coming back so it really is a disadvantage."

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz says Bifano isn’t giving voters much credit:

(Markowitz) "I trust Vermont’s voters and Vermont’s voters will vote early when they feel like they know who they want to vote for."
Some questions have been raised about ballot fraud associated with the early voting system but Markowitz says her office has never received a complaint:

(Markowitz) "It hasn’t been a concern here or across the country as people study this issue it you know it’s a felony to mark somebody else’s ballot and we haven’t had any reports of voters saying somebody has gotten their absentee ballot and marked it and sent it back in without their knowledge."

But Bifano says the state should be taking pro-active steps to prevent any fraud in the future:

(Bifano) "I’m not saying it happens in Vermont but I think that if it’s happening everyplace else in the United States it can happen here."

Voters are allowed to request an early ballot from their town clerk until the close of business on Monday afternoon.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

AP Photo/Toby Talbot

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