Early voting system may increase voter turnout

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(Host) Voting in Vermont’s primary election has gotten underway because ballots are now available at local town clerks’ offices under the state’s early voting law. Secretary of State Deb Markowitz says as many as 25% of all voters will choose this method of voting for the November election.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Until several years ago, absentee ballots were only available to voters if they were going to be out of town on election day. But in an effort to boost turnout rates, the Legislature passed a law that allows voters to cast an early ballot within 30 days of an election. Lawmakers even changed the name of this procedure to the Early Voting System to erase any memory of the old absentee ballot system.

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz is convinced that the early voting system does boost voter participation:

(Markowitz) “As I was speaking to voters – Vermonters who are registered but didn’t vote – and asked, ‘Well why didn’t you vote even, though you’re registered?’ Folks would tell me nine times out of ten that it was because they couldn’t get to the polls: They were working or they had to bring kids places and they just couldn’t make it to the polls on election day.”

(Kinzel) In the general election of 2000, 19% of all Vermont voters used the early ballot system. Markowitz thinks this number could grow to as much as 25 % this November. Markowitz thinks the growth in early voting will have a significant on how campaigns are run in Vermont:

(Markowitz) “It really has changed the way candidates have to think about their campaigns, because in the past most voters just start paying attention in the last ten days before the election. So candidates would focus all of their media and their direct mail on those last critical days. Now any time within 30 days before, their voters may be casting their ballots.”

(Kinzel) Markowitz does caution voters that once they submit their early ballot they are stuck with those choices. Under state law, even if there is a dramatic development in a campaign, voters cannot go back before the election and ask their local town clerk if they can change their ballot.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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