Senate Approves Earlier Primary Election

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(Host) Lawmakers want to hold the state’s primary election three weeks earlier than scheduled. The Vermont Senate approved that bill today.

But Governor Jim Douglas says Democratic leaders are playing politics and he’s likely to veto the bill.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Legislation moving Vermont’s primary from the second Tuesday in September to the fourth Tuesday in August is on its way to Governor Jim Douglas’s desk and there’s a lot of speculation that Douglas may veto this bill.

Senate Government Operations chairwoman Jeanette White told her colleagues that the legislation is needed to comply with new federal election regulations:

(White) "In order to comply with the federal mandate that requires ballots to be sent 45 days before an election in order to allow time for overseas voters to participate."

(Kinzel) White says the change is needed to give the state enough time to be certain that 1500 Vermont National Guard troops serving in Afghanistan can have their ballots counted in the November election.

Rutland senator Kevin Mullin opposed the bill. He’s concerned that voter turnout will be much lower in August:

(Mullin) "If we want to have the best candidates to choose from in the General Election people have to be tuned in to make informed choices and I don’t think that a majority of Vermonters must to our dismay are really that tuned in to the political season during the summer time."

(Kinzel) Both the House and the Senate supported this bill by wide margins but the dynamics of a veto override vote are very different because many Republicans who supported the bill may not want to oppose the Governor. 

It’s clear that Douglas doesn’t like this legislation.  He says he thinks the Democrats are trying to buy some extra time for the General Election because they have 5 candidates running for governor this year:

(Douglas) "Legislators just immediately jumped to moving the primary to a time in the summer when folks are still on vacation and going to the fairs and having a good time and not focused on elections I think these alternatives should have been explored more carefully before making this change."

(Kinzel) Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, House Speaker Shap Smith said he hopes Douglas won’t veto the bill:

(Smith) "I would remind the governor that we were under an obligation under federal law to so something about making sure that the ballots could get to our people overseas within 45 days of the election and that’s why we moved the bill I have some questions about who is playing politics with this bill whether it’s the governor or whether it’s the Democratic candidates I don’t think politics really should be involved in it we’re trying to comply with federal law."

(Kinzel) Last year, lawmakers twice successfully overrode a gubernatorial veto – on the budget and the same sex marriage bill but they didn’t have enough votes to override the governor’s veto of a bill dealing with the decommissioning of Vermont Yankee.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.


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