Secretary of State says the primary election date must be moved to the first Tuesday in August

The Vermont Secretary of State wants the Legislature to move the primary election date to the first week of August.

Jim Condos says the state must move the primary date up this year in order to comply with federal law. The Department of Justice sued the state in 2012 when a recount in the governor’s race led to a delay in the mailing of General Election ballots to overseas voters, including military personnel.

It’s not the first time Condos has come to lawmakers asking for an earlier primary. Last year, the Senate resoundingly voted down his proposal, 29-0. The defeat was an embarrassment for Condos, but nevertheless, he has brought the provision back, this time to the House Government Operations Committee as the omnibus elections bill, S.86, goes through round two in the Vermont Legislature.

Part of the problem politically is that the primary election date, which for many years was held in mid-September, was changed just a few years ago and lawmakers are loath to move it again. The election is currently held the fourth Tuesday in August. Last session senators said if anything they’d like to move the primary date back to mid-September.

But Condos says if lawmakers don’t change the date, the Department of Justice will do it for them.

In a letter sent to the secretary last month, the Department of Justice explained that it imposed a primary election date of June 26 (regardless of what day of the week the date falls on) for New York State because the elections division violated the deadline and because it did not allow enough time between the primary and the General Election to send ballots overseas.

Condos says if the Legislature changes the date, it must be 80 days prior to the General Election.

The Department of Justice sued the Vermont Secretary of State because 200 out of 800 ballots requested in 2012 by overseas voters were not sent by email or mail within the legal time limit. A recount in the gubernatorial Progressive primary between Annette Smith and Martha Abbott took several weeks to finalize, leaving Condos and his elections staff just three days to get General Election ballots printed and mailed to overseas voters.

Senators blocked the provision because they said that other states have a late primary, too, citing New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Massachusetts as examples.

“We contacted all three states, they all said the same thing: if we had a statewide recount like you did, we would have been in trouble,” Condos said. Massachusetts is moving its primary from September to August, he said.

A change in Vermont’s primary date would necessitate changes in 14 sections of the law and would mean moving the candidate filing deadline up.

Condos has also suggested several additional alterations to the elections law, including:

  • A requirement that write-in candidates declare their intention. This change would allow town clerks to ignore write-ins for the voter’s dog, household plant or Mickey Mouse. The declaration can occur the Friday before the election, he said.
  • A change in the major and minor party status requirements. Currently, in order to gain major party status, the party must win 5 percent of the vote for a statewide office in a General Election and and organize in 15 towns. Condos wants the Legislature to require that a party be organized in 30 or 40 towns in eight counties. Minor parties can be formed by three people. The secretary says a minor party should be organized in 10 towns or three counties.

“If you want party status, it ought to mean something but that’s something for the policy committee to decide,” Condos said.

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Anne Galloway

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  • Eric Davis

    The Legislature should look at this proposal very carefully before approving it. An early-August primary will have even lower turnout than a late-August primary.

    According to the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Web site, the MA primary will be held on Tuesday, September 9, 2014. VT Legislators should contact their counterparts in Massachusetts to find out how that state can have an early-September primary without running afoul of the Justice Department.

  • Saturday, May 17, 2014 9:57 PM From:
    “Cris Ericson”
    To: Jim Condos, VT Secretary of State
    and Will Senning, Elections Division

    Hello, If Governor Peter Shumlin has not yet signed Senate Bill 86
    to change the date of filing ballot access petition signatures,
    then can I go ahead and bring my petitions in now?

    This is just another trick to keep independents from being able to prove
    that will have ballot status.

    By not being able to prove I have ballot status until August, some
    public access t.v. stations won’t let me air a video even though
    I will be on the statewide ballot.

    For example, the public access station in Montpelier never lets me
    air a video, they always use that excuse that I can’t prove I’m going
    to be on the November general election ballot because in the past,
    the Elections Division has always fraudulently put me on a “Draft”
    candidate list when in fact the certification of my petitions proved
    I had a right to immediately be put on the November General Election
    Candidate List.

    All of these tricks are serious and willful and intentional ploys
    to keep me from proving ballot status and keep me from some
    public access t.v. stations and keep me from fund raising.

    Please let me know if I can bring in my petitions now and have
    them certified now. If Peter Shumlin has not signed this bill yet,
    then there is no reason to not
    certify my petitions and put me on the November General Election
    candidate list now.

    I have 650 sigatures on my independent Governor petition,
    and 675 signatures on my independent Representative to
    U.S. Congress petition. The requirement in Vermont is 500
    for each; and I’m sure my petition signatures are good
    because the majority of them are from responsible home
    owners from surrounding towns who go to recycling in
    Springfield, Vt, and business people with mail boxes at
    Bellows Falls, VT and even attorneys in Rutland, VT.


    “On May 10, the Vermont legislature passed Senate Bill 86,
    the omnibus election law bill. It moves the petition deadline
    for independent candidates, and the nominees of unqualified parties,
    from June, to August. The presidential petition will always be
    due August 1. The deadline for independent and minor party
    candidates for other office will be five days before the primary.
    In 2014, that deadline will be August 7, and the primary will be August 12.

    Assuming the Governor signs the bill…”

    Cris Ericson 802-875-4038