Sec. of State candidates disagree about early voting

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(Host) There’s a strong disagreement among the candidates for Secretary of State about whether Vermont’s early voting system can be easily manipulated for fraudulent purposes.

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz says that proper safeguards are in place to protect the integrity of the ballot. But her Republican challenger Gene Bifano says Markowitz is being naïve about the issue.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) This is a story that involves two separate issues with Vermont’s early voting system.

The first issue concerns a new federal lawsuit that alleges that local and state election officials didn’t keep track of how many early ballots were sent overseas in the 2006 election.

Town clerks have the exact number of early ballots requested by local voters in 2006 but they didn’t create a special category for overseas ballots.

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz says this rule is being followed for the 2008 election and she points out that the lawsuit doesn’t raise any issues of fraud:

(Markowitz) "It’s puzzling to me why the Justice Department’s resources are being devoted to a paperwork snafu …We’re ready to go to court and duke it out there. The fact is there’s no way to go back to 2006 to reconstruct that what we don’t have."

(Kinzel) Republican candidate Gene Bifano sees the issue differently:

(Bifano) "This particular issue is a management issue. That’s all it is and what’s really required is someone to be focused on a day to day basis."

(Kinzel) The second story involves the use of early ballots by local voters. State officials expect that as many as 25% of all Vermonters will cast an early ballot for the November elections.

Markowitz says the system is secure and has been free from fraud:

(Markowitz) "It’s a convenience that voters really like and in all my years as Secretary of State – that’s a decade – we haven’t really ever gotten one complaint from any voter saying that, `You know, somebody else sent a ballot back for them,’ or they came to the polls to vote and found that somebody had gotten an absentee ballot in their name and had voted. Not one complaint of any fraud or intimidation associated with the early voting system."

(Kinzel) However, Bifano has much less faith in the integrity of the early voting system:

(Bifano)"If you’re not looking for it, you’re not going to find it. It’s like having cancer. You live with it for a couple of years and the next thing you know you go to the doctor’s and you’re on the death bed. So if you’re not looking for stuff and you just have this pollyannaish attitude that people in Vermont don’t commit fraud I would tend to disagree with that."

(Kinzel) Bifano says his many years of employment as a manager in private business is exactly the kind of experience that’s needed to make the Secretary of State’s office more accountable to Vermont voters.

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

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