Vermont Secretary of State agrees to Nov. 16 deadline for small number of overseas ballots

The Vermont Secretary of State has agreed to accept 196 ballots from military personnel, their families and citizens living overseas through Nov. 16, 10 days after the General Election.

The agreement was reached on Friday with the U.S. Department of Justice. The federal agency recently sued the state for failing to send more than 20 percent of absentee ballots to military service members, their families and U.S. citizens living overseas by the federal deadline. Overseas ballots must be sent within 45 days prior to an election. The Department of Justice alleged that the state had violated the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. The agreement was filed in U.S. District Court in Burlington on Friday.

“This agreement reflects this department’s steadfast and continued commitment to ensure that members of our armed forces, their families and overseas citizens are offered a full and meaningful opportunity to vote in our nation’s elections,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.  “I am most appreciative that election officials in Vermont worked cooperatively with the department and agreed to take actions to ensure that military and overseas voters will have a full opportunity to have their votes counted in the upcoming general election.”

The federal agency sought a 10-day extension for all absentee ballots to be counted in Vermont, or roughly 1,000 votes.

Jim Condos, the secretary of state, said the state argued that only the ballots that were not sent out by the deadline — 196 in all — should be part of the delayed vote count.

The Nov. 16 vote count will be conducted under a court order, Condos said, because the secretary’s office can’t authorize a delay under state law. Municipal clerks, not the secretary, are responsible for conducting the election.

“We asked for a deadline of Nov. 5 for the postmark,” Condos said. “The reason for that is to make sure no one is voting after the election. They could throw their vote in a way that changes the election when we knew what result was.”

The delayed vote count means the official certification of votes could be delayed until Thanksgiving. The Nov. 16 count will not have an impact on the presidential election, Condos said, because the tally will be “a big spread.”

Condos told federal officials that he will ask the Legislature to move the primary date up.

“We’re pleased the Department of Justice is working with us,” Condos said. “This gives us more impetus to go to the Legislature. We told them we would be going to Legislature asking to move primary date so more time in case of a recount to complete the work that needs to be done so we or the clerks don’t miss dates in future.”

The lawsuit alleged that 191 ballots were not sent out until after the deadline on Sept. 22. The majority of the ballots were sent by email and mail on Sept. 24 and 25. By Sept. 28, 182 ballots has been transmitted. A few were sent as late as October. The delay was caused by a recount for the Progressive Party primary and subsequent timing and technical problems at town clerks’ offices.

The secretary’s office is required under the agreement to file a compliance report with the Department of Justice by Nov. 30.

Anne Galloway

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