Vermont News Briefs

Condos: Recount delay didn’t significantly impact overseas ballot returns

Ten military and overseas voters voted after the Nov. 6 election, taking advantage of a court-ordered extension after the feds sued the state for missing a deadline for sending out absentee ballots.

Despite the extended timeframe, about 36 absentee voters didn’t cast their vote after Nov. 6 and before a new deadline of Nov. 16, according to a spreadsheet from the Secretary of State’s office. One hundred fifty-eight voters sent in their ballots in before the election.

Under federal law, the state must send absentee ballots out to voters at least 45 days before an election. This year, 207 ballots were sent after the Sept. 22 deadline, out of a total of about 800 overseas absentee ballots.

This led the Department of Justice to sue the Secretary of State,
and an agreement that the state would extend the deadline for counting votes through Nov. 16.

Condos said the final tally backed up his office’s contention that a delay triggered by a primary recount wouldn’t significantly change overseas ballot returns. Most of the 207 late ballots were sent via email only a few days late.

The 10 ballots returned after Nov. 6 had no material effect on the elections, he said. “In the races for president, for Senate, and for U.S. House, those races the DoJ has oversight over, all three of the participants won by over 60 percent,” said Condos. “So those 10 ballots had no impact on those results. But those 10 ballots should be counted, because those people legitimately voted.”

Condos said that the lawsuit unfortunately demanded some time and “minimal” expenses from the state, but otherwise wasn’t problematic. He blamed the lateness of the primary ballots to a “perfect storm” of factors, including the lateness of a gubernatorial primary recount that left his office only two days to finalize ballots for town clerks.

Because town clerks received a finalized ballot late on Sept. 20, they were left scrambling to meet the Sept. 22 deadline, according to Vermont Municipal Clerks and Treasurers Association president Sandra Pinsonault.

Since some town clerks don’t work on Fridays, said Pinsonault, the timing was especially inconvenient. Pinsonault said the justice department’s lawsuit was “crazy” and “unfounded,” arguing that voters had plenty of time to respond even with ballots sent days late, making a deadline extension unnecessary.

“It was a waste of tax dollars by the Justice Department to pursue this,” said Pinsonault. “There are bigger fish in the big pond to be looking at and frying, than worrying about how Vermont is doing with our 10 ballots.”

Condos said he would ask the Legislature to move the state’s primary to early August at the latest, to allow town clerks and his office more time to prepare for the general election. He said that administering the election on schedule becomes especially tricky when there are recounts in a primary.

Justice Department spokesperson Dena Iverson didn’t return a request for comment. Condos said that the Justice Department had raised similar concerns about problems with absentee voting in the 2010 election, which saw a recount in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, but declined to take legal action then.

When the lawsuit was first settled, Thomas Perez, an assistant attorney general for the department’s civil rights division, said in a statement: “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. … I am most appreciative that election officials in Vermont worked cooperatively with the department.”

Read the settlement agreement between the Department of Justice and the Secretary of State here.

In other post-election news, Condos completed a random audit of voting equipment in four towns last week, which showed a less than 1 percent difference between hand counts and machine counts in those towns for the state treasurer’s and the U.S. Representative races.

“I am pleased to report that the results continue to show that the optical scan machines are an accurate resource for the counting of ballots,” Condos said in a statement.

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Nat Rudarakanchana

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  • Patrick Cashman

    This line is improperly stated – “Under federal law, the state must send absentee ballots out to voters within 45 days before an election.”

    By the MOVE Act States must transmit a valid absentee ballot NO LATER THAN 45 days prior to the election.