Impact of Early Voting Option on Elections

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(Host) The voting process for Vermont’s September primary election is now officially under way. Individuals may use the early ballot system to cast their vote anytime in the next three weeks and it’s expected that at least 20 percent of all voters will use this process for the November General Election.

As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, this is causing political parties to change their strategies for the fall election.

(Kinzel) A number of years ago, the Legislature amended the state’s election laws to allow voters to cast absentee ballots within 30 days of an election. Voters can request a ballot by mail from their town clerks or they can pick one up in person at the clerk’s office.

The early voting system has been very popular in a number of states that have chosen to implement it. In the 2002 election, roughly 20 percent of all voters in Vermont used it. In Arizona, which has a law similar to Vermont’s, approximately 35 percent of voters cast their ballots using the early system.

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz thinks there’s a good reason why Vermont’s rate of early voting is so high:

(Markowitz) “In part, because we have a very generous law. Our law permits anybody who wishes to vote early by mail or absentee ballot just because of a convenience. Other states vary what they require, but some require essentially a doctors’ note.”

(Kinzel) Scudder Parker is the chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party. Parker says the growth in early voting has forced campaigns to re-evaluate some of their spending decisions:

(Parker) “The most obvious thing you have to do is run your own good ‘early vote campaign’ – identify the voters who may be likely to vote your way and help get them ballots, encourage them to vote and get their ballots in. It also obviously affects your advertising and your last-minute get-out-the-vote strategies that have tended to be focused on the last few days before the campaign.”

(Kinzel) Republican Party Chairman Jim Barnett says his organization is putting together a specific plan to target early voters and he thinks the early voting process could help boost turnout.

(Barnett) “One of things that political parties really concentrate on is going after for the purposes of absentee and early voting, what we call ‘lazy voters’ – voters who don’t make it a habit to vote in every cycle. So by targeting people who might show up only one out of every four elections you might be able to increase your turnout above and beyond what you might have gotten if people were left to their own devices.”

(Kinzel) Secretary of State Markowitz says it’s important for voters to realize that once they’ve submitted their early ballot to their town clerks their vote is locked in and they cannot ask for another ballot if unusual developments take place in a particular election race.

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

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