Legislative Leaders Say Primary Date Change A Top Priority

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(Host) Legislative leaders say one of the first orders of business in the upcoming session is to pass legislation moving up the date of Vermont’s Primary election.

They say the change is needed because of new federal election rules. While many Democrats support the change, Governor Jim Douglas opposes it.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports

(Kinzel) Vermont’s primary election is one of the latest in the country – it’s held on the second Tuesday in September and this year it’s scheduled to be held as late as the calendar ever allows it to be – Tuesday September 14th.

New federal election rules call on states to send out General Election ballots at least 45 days before the November election and the September 14th date doesn’t allow this to happen.

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz has urged lawmakers to move up the Primary date for a number of years and she says this year it’s even more important:

(Markowitz) "We’re about to have the biggest call-up that we’ve ever had since World War II – 1,400 National Guard men and women going to Afghanistan. That’s a very hard place to get mail. Those Vermonters have the same right to vote that you and I have. We have to do everything we can to make sure that we can get them their ballots in time for them to vote then and return them  so they can be counted on Election Day."

(Kinzel) Governor Jim Douglas isn’t persuaded by this argument.  He thinks the Democrats are interested in moving the date because they face a crowded gubernatorial primary and he says there are other ways to deal with this issue:

(Douglas) "I talked with a colleague the other day who said that his state has electronic transmission of ballots. That reduces the transit time both to and from a remote absentee voter. Other states could count ballots after the fact. We saw that with the special election in New York state recently for the congressional seat… So there are alternatives to moving the primary and I’m disappointed that they haven’t been explored."

(Kinzel) However, Markowitz says the electronic ballot plan has some serious problems:

(Markowitz) "That’sassuming that our military folks in Afghanistan have access to emails. And many of them out in the field won’t have that. We’ve already tried this, not just in Vermont but across the country, and it doesn’t get the job done. That’s why this new law was passed."

(Kinzel) The Senate passed this legislation last session and the House Government Operations Committee will begin its review of the bill next week.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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