Primary Date Likely To Move To August

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(Host) There’s a good chance that Vermont’s primary election this year is going to be held in August instead of September.

That’s because the House has approved legislation that moves the date up by 3 weeks, to comply with new federal election regulations.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Lawmakers were considering the bill because new federal rules require overseas general election ballots to be sent out within 45 days of the November election.

Vermont’s primary this year is scheduled for September 14th and this late date doesn’t allow enough time to meet the new regulations.

Wolcott Rep. Linda Martin said the date change is needed to ensure that the 1,500 Vermont Guard troops who have been deployed for service in Afghanistan have an opportunity to vote:

(Martin) "We all say that we support our military. Let us now show them through our action and allow their votes to be counted in a timely manner. They’re fighting for our freedom – this is the least we can do."

(Kinzel) The real debate over the bill was over an amendment to keep the primary date in September and to allow overseas voters to use electronic ballots.  Barre Town Rep. Tom Koch urged his colleagues to support his plan:

(Koch) "We can do better than mailing paper ballots back and forth and saying ‘oh, we need to extend our election procedures by 3 weeks in order to do that’. 3 weeks is bad for a number of reasons – it moves the primary into the last week of August when many people are still on vacation."

(Kinzel) Burlington Rep. Bill Aswad opposed this plan because he says he has serious concerns with the security of electronic voting:

(Aswad) "I believe that electronic transmissions can very easily be compromised. We’re all aware of the fact that even Pentagon transmissions have been compromised and I believe that the security of the ballot is very sacred."

(Kinzel) The House defeated the amendment by a two to one margin and then the passed the overall legislation by a vote of 139 to 6.

(Kinzel) This year there are 5 Democratic candidates running for governor.  Will the extra time after the primary help the Democratic candidate in the General Election?   Middlebury College professor emeritus Eric Davis thinks there are more important factors than moving up the primary date:

(Davis) "What’s the economy like in the fall? What are voters’ views of the performance of the Douglas Administration and Dubie’s role – as either continuing or marking a departure, possibly, from that? What are attitudes towards the Legislature? Those are the questions that are going to affect voters’ choices in the gubernatorial election – not whether the Democratic candidate has 3 more weeks to campaign."

(Kinzel) The legislation could soon be on its way to Governor Douglas for his signature because the Senate passed a similar bill last year.

Douglas says he doesn’t like the bill and he supports using electronic ballots. It’s not known if his objections are strong enough to warrant a veto.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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