The Vermont Senate has overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to move the state’s primary elections to early August.
The early date was supported by Secretary of State Jim Condos, who said he needed more time between the primary and the general election to meet federal deadlines to get ballots to overseas voters.
But senators complained that the early August primary election would lower voter turnout.
The vote against changing the primary was unanimous. All senators present voted against it, including members of the Government Operations Committee – which had first supported the change.
Sen. Galbraith, D-Windham, argued that a vote held on the first Tuesday in August would come when voters were more interested in summer vacation than politics.
"We’re moving our primary to a time when we’re going to have the lowest possible participation, which is the first of August, the first week of August, exactly when people are in summer season," he said. "Also, we think of ourselves, we pride ourselves, as a citizen legislature and the summer is a time when people campaign."
The Senate stripped the early primary date from a bill that addresses several elections issues. Sen. Jeannette White, D-Windham, chairs the government operations committee that worked on the bill. She went along with the change.
"The committee did a lot of work on this bill, and we have a lot of vested interests in parts of the bill," she told her colleagues. "The committee was taking our advice from elsewhere (on the primary issue). And maybe we should not even have primaries, I don’t know."
The advice to move up the primary date came from Secretary of State Condos. He rushed over to the Statehouse after the vote, and said he’s disappointed in the outcome.
"I have to find out more about what happened," he said. "But I’ll deal with the issue. It’s their prerogative. They’re the ones that make the policy. I can only make recommendations."
The primary has been held on the last Tuesday in August for the past two election cycles. But Condos says even that earlier date – it used be held in mid-September – doesn’t give his office enough time to meet federal deadlines to produce general election ballots for overseas voters.
He said New York State was sued by the Department of Justice for missing its election deadlines. A court then ordered the primary to be held in June.
Condos said Vermont runs the same risk without an earlier primary date. And he said Vermont’s early voting provisions give people plenty of time to cast their ballots.
"It’s a red herring when people talk about it’s vacation time. There’s 45 days to vote. And that creates a long time for people to have access to the ballots. So it’s not like people aren’t going have a chance to vote," he said.
But critics of the early primary date point out that Massachusetts and New Hampshire hold primaries in September and still manage to meet federal deadlines to get ballots sent to overseas voters.