Registration increases may not signal higher voter turnout

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(Host) Some Vermont towns are reporting an increase in the number of people who have registered to vote in recent months. But one political science professor says that doesn’t necessarily mean that voter turnout in Vermont is going to be higher than it was four years ago.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Voter interest in the 2000 presidential election in Vermont was very high. Almost 70 percent of all registered voters came out to cast a ballot in that election and roughly 20 percent voted using the early ballot.

Town clerks in many parts of Vermont are reporting an increase in the number of newly registered voters this year, leading some observers to predict a significant increase in voter turnout. However this may not be the case.

Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis points out that a chunk of these newly registered voters may, in fact, be Vermonters who have moved to a new community within the state since the last election:

(Davis) “So even if someone has moved from a town they can’t be stricken from the check list unless they fail to show up for two consecutive general elections and then don’t respond to a letter from the town clerk seeking to verify their address. So there may be people who’ve moved from one town to another in Vermont in the last couple of years who have registered at their new address and the paperwork to remove them from the checklist in their town of previous residence hasn’t been processed yet. So just the natural movement of people around the state may account for some of the increase in registration this year.”

(Kinzel) If no candidate in a statewide race receives 50 percent of the vote, the election will be decided by lawmakers in January. Davis says it’s likely that the race for lieutenant governor, which has three major party candidates – incumbent Brian Dubie, Democrat Cheryl Rivers and Progressive Steve Hingtgen – will go to the Legislature:

(Davis) “The lieutenant governor election in the Legislature, if that’s what it comes to in January, will be most interesting because this is an election that’s conducted on a secret ballot. So legislators may pledge their support to a candidate for lieutenant governor but that doesn’t necessarily mean on the secret ballot they’ll vote for that person.”

(Kinzel) State law allows towns to decide when to open their polls on Election Day but all communities must remain open until 7 o’clock in the evening.

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

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