Voters cast early ballots in record numbers

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(Host) According to the Secretary of State’s office, Vermonters are picking up early ballots at a record pace. It’s possible that 30% of all voters will cast their ballots before Election Day.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) In the past two statewide elections, the number of people using absentee or early ballots has grown at a dramatic rate. In 1998, roughly 9% of all voters used this system and two years ago the number more than doubled as 19% selected early ballots.

These increases took place after the Legislature passed a law lifting many of the restrictions on early voting to make the process much more convenient for voters. Now any person can vote by early ballot within 30 days of an election.

Deputy Secretary of State Bill Dalton says the demand for early ballots has been very strong in many communities and Dalton won’t be surprised to see as many as 30% of all voters using the early ballot system this year:

(Dalton) “A number of the town clerks have said that there has been what they feel is an increase in the request for the early ballots or the absentee ballots. So that people can vote in their own home or in the town clerk’s office or any number of ways that make it quite convenient. It seems as though the idea has caught on and that people are thinking that 25-30% of the votes might be early votes.”

(Kinzel) Dalton says it’s very hard to tell if the early voting system is actually boosting turnout or is just making it more convenient for people to vote:

(Dalton) “And there’s no way of knowing. I think maybe after the election we’ll be able to take some of the hard numbers and try to put some rationale to whatever it says. But at this point in time, we’re just guessing.”

(Kinzel) The surge in early voting can be seen in Burlington. Jo LaMarche, who’s the assistant city clerk, says roughly 25% of projected voters have already requested ballots for the election:

(LaMarche) “We’ve had a lot of people came in and request absentee ballots. And a lot of campaign workers are out there, of course, registering people to vote and asking if the voters want to have an absentee ballot mailed to them at the same time.”

(Kinzel) Lamarche says she supports the early voting system because she’s convinced that it encourages more people to participate in the election process.

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

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