General election begins this week with early voting

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(Host) Voting for the General Election officially got under way this week as the provisions of Vermont’s early ballot law went into effect. State officials believe as many as 25% of all voters will use the early system to cast their ballots this year.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Several years ago, as part of an effort to boost voter turnout, the Legislature passed a law making it much easier to vote in the days and weeks before an election. Voters no longer need any reason to vote early and they’re encouraged to fill out their ballot any time within 30 days of an election.

In 1998, roughly 9% of Vermonters used the early voting system. Two years ago this number doubled to almost 19%, and this year officials believe that one-quarter of all voters will cast early ballots.

All three of the state’s major political parties are promoting the early ballot system and Vermont AARP, which has 115,000 members in the state, has distributed more than 10,000 flyers educating Vermonters about how the system works. The flyers include the phone numbers of every town clerk in the state so that voters can call up their local clerk and request an early ballot. Bobbi Kaimen is the executive director of Vermont AARP:

(Kaimen) “But if there is just one more way we can make it easier for people to do it. A couple of years ago we had a snowy day. If the weather’s bad that day I think sometimes people don’t want to get out and we just want to make sure that people can take that step ahead and vote absentee. One of the most important issues in this campaign is people’s vote and if people don’t vote then their voice can’t be heard.”

(Kinzel) Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, who is a strong backer of the early voting system, says voters need to realize that once they cast their early ballot, they cannot request another ballot if they change their mind about a candidate:

(Markowitz) “One of the criticisms of early voting is that we’re encouraging people to cast their ballot at a time when they may not have all the facts yet about candidates and campaigns. And it’s true, 30 days before the election is when you can first cast your vote makes it pretty early. There’s still debates, there’s still direct mail and advertisements and there’s still publications that talk about candidates and their positions. And a person who casts their ballot by absentee or early voting ballot can’t go into the clerk’s office and say, ‘Give it back to me, I’ve changed my mind.'”

(Kinzel) Markowitz says voters interested in learning more about the early ballot system should contact their local town clerk.

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

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