Vermont’s early voting system is designed to boost turnout by making voting more convenient, but questions are being raised about whether it’s too easy for third party groups to misuse the system.
Under state law, an individual voter can request an early ballot by calling, writing or emailing their local town clerk within 45 days of an election. They can also go the clerk’s office and vote in person.
The law also allows family members, health care providers and any third party person to request a ballot for a specific voter.
Gail and Francis Speno live in Brattleboro and are strong supporters of Attorney General Bill Sorrell. Gail says she was surprised to get a call from her Town clerk telling her that a worker from T.J. Donovan’s campaign had put in an early ballot request for the Spenos.
"She thought it was unusual that our names would be on there being requested by somebody other than ourselves," said Speno. "So she called to confirm that did we or did we not want her to mail the ballots and my husband and our were very surprised to see our names on that list and we told her that absolutely under no circumstances should she do that."
Speno says it would be easy for a voter who gets an unsolicited early ballot in the mail to think it was junk mail and throw it away. When the person goes to vote, it’s been recorded that they were sent an early ballot.
They can still vote if they sign an affidavit stating that they didn’t use their early ballot:
"But what it does it ties up the town clerks having to present people with affidavits. It ties up the voter who might think gosh I’ve got five minutes to vote and I’m going to scoot in an do it real quickly and it makes people angry."
The Donovan campaign said it does encourage likely supporters to cast an early ballot but that this incident was clearly a mistake and it apologized for what happened.
Secretary of State Jim Condos thinks lawmakers should consider requiring third party groups to get the signature of the voter before submitting an early ballot request for them.
"Yes I think I can support that and I think you could still have the third parties involved but the third parties would at least have another step they have to go through. They’ll just to have to adjust the way they do business."
The number of people using the early voting system has increased in recent years and it’s expected that as many as 25% of Vermont’s voters will cast an early ballot this year.