Politics

Vermont rolls out online voter registration, looks to future


MONTPELIER – Secretary of State Jim Condos unveiled Vermont’s new online voter registration system Thursday, a network built over two years that officials hope will boost voter turnout in future elections.

“The biggest obstacle to registering people to vote is convenience,” said Gov. Peter Shumlin, speaking at City Hall. “And what this allows is for folks to go online, to register and to be able to participate in the most important democracy in the world.”

Out of the 665,000 people living in Vermont, roughly 440,000 are registered to vote, Condos said. The online system will boost this number in the coming months, he hopes, as Vermonters can now register online or in person up until the Wednesday before the 2016 election, Condos said.

The new software also allows voters to request and track absentee ballots, retrieve directions to polling places and view real-time election results, officials said.

The online registration software is the last part of a larger $2.7 million technology project that included the development of online repositories for campaign finance and lobbyist data that is now available on the Secretary of State’s website.

A majority of the program cost – about $2 million – came from the federal government, while the state provided $700,000, Condos said.

The online system allows Vermonters to register to vote by filling out a six-part questionnaire, similar to the paper documents available at town clerks’ offices all over the state.

“One of the biggest complaints we have from overseas and military voters is that they don’t know if their ballot made it back in time,” Condos said. “Now we are going to be able to see.”

Condos said 244 of the 246 the state’s town clerks have been briefed and trained on the software, and that they understand their role in confirming and updating voter rolls using the system.

John Odum, Montpelier’s city clerk, praised the program and said in his talks to town clerks they have been “literally unanimous in their praise for this product.”

David Becker, director of election initiatives at the Pew Charitable Trust, told reporters that Vermont is now one of 26 states with online voter registration, and that in 2008, only two states had online systems in place.

Becker said Pew has observed that states with online registration often have higher turnout in elections, but cautioned that many factors influence the number of people that turn out on Election Day.

He said the factors include how competitive the race is, the strength of the parties, the amount of money invested in advertising, even the weather.

Condos pointed to other initiatives to encourage voting, including the upcoming allowance of same-day voter registration, which begins in January 2017.

He also pointed to California and Oregon, two states that have opt-out automatic voter registration, and said he was going to recommend similar rules in the next legislative session.

Shumlin voiced support for an automatic voter registration system in Vermont, saying, “I think anything we can do to increase voter participation is a great thing to do.”

The system went live a week ago, and Condos said some Vermonters had already used the new software.

“As of yesterday morning we already 285 online voter registrations,” Condos said. “So people have found it already.”

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  • Eric Davis

    Online voter registration is a good idea, but it does not guarantee that voters will turn out to vote.

    Sometimes low turnout is due to voters finding candidates uninspiring, as was the case in November 2014, when only 45% of registered voters cast a ballot.

    Sometimes low turnout is due to impediments established by states themselves. These sorts of restrictions – photo ID requirements, limited hours to register, restrictions on early and absentee voting – have received a lot of news coverage recently in states such as Alabama, Kansas, North Carolina, and Texas.

    Sometimes impediments to voting are the unintended consequences of decisions made by state government. An example here in Vermont is the Legislature’s decision last year to move the state primary election to the second Tuesday in August from the fourth Tuesday in August.

    In 2016, the gubernatorial primaries will be held on Tuesday, August 9. I am afraid the turnout in that election could be less than 20% of registered voters. This would be unfortunate, since there are contested gubernatorial primaries in both the Democratic and Republican parties. Although 65-70% of Vermont voters (about 300,000 people) will likely turn out in the general election in November 2016, the Democratic nominee for governor could end up being selected by about 60,000 voters, and the Republican nominee by about 30,000 voters.

    The primary is going to be held in early August because the Secretary of State argues that his office needs more time to prepare and distribute general election ballots and comply with federal deadlines requiring distributing ballots to military, overseas, and absentee voters. However, an early-August primary will have much lower turnout than a primary held after Labor Day, which was the date of the Vermont primary until 2008.

    In 2016, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut will hold their state primaries on September 13, and Massachusetts on September 20. I am not aware that any of those four states are having difficulty with the U.S. Department of Justice regarding compliance with deadlines for military, overseas, and absentee voters, or that their Secretaries of State say they need more time between the primary and general elections.

    The Vermont Legislature should re-examine the primary calendar for the 2018 and subsequent cycles to make sure that the primary really does have to be held in early August. A September primary would have higher turnout, which would enhance democracy and representative government in the state.

    • Jim Condos

      Eric,
      You are right about the states that have later primaries, and we have talked to all of their SoS’s or Election Directors. If they had a statewide recount as we did in 2006, 2010, 2012- they all would have run afoul of the federal mandate to have ballots ready to be mailed to Overseas and Military voters by the 45th day before the election. It is the possibility of statewide recounts (and those states have not had any statewide recounts) that creates the problem.
      During the 2012 election cycle, once the court issued its decision on VT’s recount, my office had 3.5 days to ready, proof, print and deliver ballots (there are a total of 275 DIFFERENT ballot styles) to the 246 town clerks in VT.
      In a similar court case with NY state, the court created a precedence with deadline of a minimum 80 days before the general election to provide enough time to have ballots ready. That was what we were up against.
      Because the Dept of Justice and Congress are only interested in the federal elections (President, US Senate and US House), one option would be for VT to break the primaries into 2 – have the federal primary earlier and leave the statewide primary in September. Of course, then we would be adding another election day with significant additional costs for both state and local gov’ts – and our overseas and military voters could be impacted on voting in statewide races.

      Hope this helps you to understand the reasons we worked with the legislature to insure that all eligible voters are able to cast a ballot.

      Give me a call if you would like to discuss further.

  • fred moss

    Great. However, all the more reason to require ID on voting day.

    • Homer Sulham

      I think that is a good idea, They need to make sure the voters are legal.

    • Paul Richards

      We can’t do that. It would require the liberals to admit that there might be some legitimacy to tightening up our voting process. After all it’s a clean system now, not.
      ““And what this allows is for folks to go online, to register and to be able to participate in the most important democracy in the world.””
      It’s the most important democracy in the world yet we treat it like it’s buying a 25 cent cup of lemonade at a neighborhood stand. This just allows the fraud to continue. I know, I know, not many have been prosecuted so nothing to see here. Never mind that the black panthers got away with voter intimidation because eric holder refused to prosecute “his people”.
      Anything to keep the feeder programs for the permanent underclass going to satisfy the thirst for liberal voters.

      • Christopher Daniels

        Voter fraud has been investigated throughout the country numerous times with the same outcome: it’s not happening on anything but a minor scale.

        • fred moss

          Investigated by whom? Voter fraud is alive and well.

        • Bob Orleck

          “Voter fraud has been investigated throughout the country numerous times with the same outcome: it’s not happening on anything but a minor scale.”

          There is total fear among liberals that only legal voters would vote. They would lose big time! How easy to say that voter fraud has been investigated and it not happening. When someone votes and leaves the voting booth having been undetected by showing an ID, how do you think any comprehensive discovery of such people could occur? It can’t! It has to be checked and stopped at voter check in by requiring everyone who votes, like everyone who boards a plane, to show valid government issued identification.

          Your argument follows the Democrat line but like those that blindly follow its alien leaders who have taken control of a once great party, you are deceived and you are setting forth an argument that cannot be supported by facts and that common sense says is obviously wrong and misguided.

        • John Greenberg
        • Paul Richards

          Voter fraud is hard to prove partly because there are so many holes in the process. You won’t have very many proven cases as long as you have the likes of eric holder at the front gate. Let’s bring in some more black panthers to monitor the polling places. We know eric wouldn’t prosecute “his people”.
          The fox is watching the chicken coop. It’s all good, don’t you worry about a thing. Our voting rights are in good hands.
          A few examples.
          State Year Details
          AR 1998 A contractor with ACORN-affiliated Project Vote was arrested for falsifying about 400 voter registration cards.
          CO 2005 Two ex-ACORN employees were convicted in Denver of perjury for submitting false voter registrations.
          2004 An ACORN employee admitted to forging signatures and registering three of her friends to vote 40 times.
          CT 2008 The New York Post reported that ACORN submitted a voter registration card for a 7-year-old Bridgeport girl. Another 8,000 cards from the same city will be scrutinized for possible fraud.
          FL 2009 In September, 11 ACORN workers were accused of forging voter registration applications in Miami-Dade County during the last election. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the state attorney’s office scoured hundreds of suspicious applications provided by ACORN and found 197 of 260 contained personal ID information that did not match any living person.
          2008 Election officials in Brevard County have given prosecutors more than 23 suspect registrations from ACORN. The state’s Division of Elections is also investigating complaints in Orange and Broward Counties.
          2004 A Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokesman said ACORN was “singled out” among suspected voter registration groups for a 2004 wage initiative because it was “the common thread” in the agency’s fraud investigations.
          IN 2008 Election officials in Indiana have thrown out more than 4,000 ACORN-submitted voter registrations after finding they had identical handwriting and included the names of many deceased Indianans, and even the name of a fast food restaurant.
          MI 2008 Clerks in Detroit found a “sizeable number of duplicate and fraudulent [voter] applications” from the Michigan branch of ACORN. Those applications have been turned over to the U.S. Attorney’s office for investigation.
          2004 The Detroit Free Press reported that “overzealous or unscrupulous campaign workers in several Michigan counties are under investigation for voter-registration fraud, suspected of attempting to register nonexistent people or forging applications for already-registered voters.” ACORN-affiliate Project Vote was one of two groups suspected of turning in the documents.
          MO 2008 Nearly 400 ACORN-submitted registrations in Kansas City have been rejected due to duplication or fake information.
          2007 Four ACORN employees were indicted in Kansas City for charges including identity theft and filing false registrations during the 2006 election.
          2006 Eight ACORN employees in St. Louis were indicted on federal election fraud charges. Each of the eight faces up to five years in prison for forging signatures and submitting false information.
          2003 Of 5,379 voter registration cards ACORN submitted in St. Louis, only 2,013 of those appeared to be valid. At least 1,000 are believed to be attempts to register voters illegally.
          MN 2004 During a traffic stop, police found more than 300 voter registration cards in the trunk of a former ACORN employee, who had violated a legal requirements that registration cards be submitted to the Secretary of State within 10 days of being filled out and signed.
          NC 2008 County elections officials have sent suspicious voter registration applications to the state Board of Elections. Many of the applications had similar or identical names, but with different addresses or dates of birth.
          2004 North Carolina officials investigated ACORN for submitting fake voter registration cards.
          NM 2008 Prosecutors are investigating more than 1,100 ACORN-submitted voter registration cards after a county clerk found them to be fraudulent. Many of the cards included duplicate names and slightly altered personal information.
          2005 Four ACORN employees submitted as many as 3,000 potentially fraudulent signatures on the group’s Albuquerque ballot initiative. A local sheriff added: “It’s safe to say the forgery was widespread.”
          2004 An ACORN employee registered a 13-year-old boy to vote. Citing this and other examples, New Mexico State Representative Joe Thompson stated that ACORN was “manufacturing voters” throughout New Mexico.
          NV 2009 Nevada authorities indicted ACORN on 26 counts of voter registration fraud and 13 counts of illegally compensating canvassers. ACORN provided a bonus compensation program called “Blackjack” or “21+” for any canvasser who registered more than 20 voters per shift, which is illegal under Nevada law.
          2008 Nevada state authorities raided ACORN’s Las Vegas headquarters as part of a task force investigation of election fraud. Fraudulent registrations included players from the Dallas Cowboys.
          OH 2008 ACORN activists gave Ohio residents cash and cigarettes in exchange for filling out voter registration card, according to the New York Post. Some voters claim to have registered dozens of times, and one man says he signed up on 72 cards.
          2007 A man in Reynoldsburg was indicted on two felony counts of illegal voting and false registration, after being registered by ACORN to vote in two separate counties.
          2004 A grand jury indicted a Columbus ACORN worker for submitting a false signature and false voter registration form. In Franklin County, two ACORN workers submitted what the director of the board of election supervisors called “blatantly false” forms. In Cuyahoga County, ACORN and its affiliate Project Vote submitted registration cards that had the highest rate of errors for any voter registration group.
          PA 2009 Seven ACORN workers in the Pittsburgh area were indicted for submitting falsified voter registration forms. Six of the seven were also indicted for registering voters under an illegal quota system.
          2008 State election officials have thrown out 57,435 voter registrations, the majority of which were submitted by ACORN. The registrations were thrown out after officials found “clearly fraudulent” signatures, vacant lots listed as addresses, and other signs of fraud.
          2008 An ACORN employee in West Reading, PA, was sentenced to up to 23 months in prison for identity theft and tampering with records. A second ACORN worker pleaded not guilty to the same charges and is free on $10,000 bail.
          2004 Reading’s Director of Elections received calls from numerous individuals complaining that ACORN employees deliberately put inaccurate information on their voter registration forms. The Berks County director of elections said voter fraud was “absolutely out of hand,” and added: “Not only do we have unintentional duplication of voter registration but we have blatant duplicate voter registrations.” The Berks County deputy director of elections added that ACORN was under investigation by the Department of Justice.
          TX 2008 In Harris County, nearly 10,000 ACORN-submitted registrations were found to be invalid, including many with clearly fraudulent addresses or other personal information.
          2008 ACORN turned in the voter registration form of David Young, who told reporters “The signature is not my signature. It’s not even close.” His social security number and date of birth were also incorrect.
          VA 2005 In 2005, the Virginia State Board of Elections admonished Project Vote and ACORN for turning in a significant number of faulty voter registrations. An audit revealed that 83% of sampled registrations that were rejected for carrying false or questionable information were submitted by Project Vote. Many of these registrations carried social security numbers that exist for other people, listed non-existent or commercial addresses, or were for convicted felons in violation of state and federal election law.

          In a letter to ACORN, the State Board of Elections reported that 56% of the voter registration applications ACORN turned in were ineligible. Further, a full 35% were not submitted in a timely manner, as required by law. The State Board of Elections also commented on what appeared to be evidence of intentional voter fraud. “Additionally,” they wrote, “information appears to have been altered on some applications where information given by the applicant in one color ink has been scratched through and re-entered in another color ink. Any alteration of a voter registration application is a Class 5 Felony in accordance with § 24.2-1009 of the Code of Virginia.”
          WA 2007 Three ACORN employees pleaded guilty, and four more were charged, in the worst case of voter registration fraud in Washington state history. More than 2,000 fraudulent voter registration cards were submitted by the group during a voter registration drive.
          WI 2008 At least 33,000 ACORN-submitted registrations in Milwaukee have been called into question after it was found that the organizations had been using felons as registration workers, in violation of state election rules. Two people involved in the ongoing Wisconsin voter fraud investigation have been charged with felonies.
          2004 The district attorney’s office investigated seven voter registration applications Project Vote employees filed in the names of people who said the group never contacted them. Former Project Vote employee Robert Marquise Blakely told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he had not met with any of the people whose voter registration applications he signed, “an apparent violation of state law,” according to the paper.
          Just a few minor infractions, don’t you worry about a thing.

          • John Greenberg

            Paul Richards:

            Apparently, you failed to notice that Eric Holder is no longer running the Department of Justice or that he was the AG of the US, and that most of these cases involve STATE laws over which the US AG has no jurisdiction. But there’s no need to let the facts get in the way of a lousy argument.

            Skimming the list of your allegations, only one of them – “2007 A man in Reynoldsburg was indicted on two felony counts of illegal voting and false registration, after being registered by ACORN to vote in two separate counties” — has anything to do with the issue we’re discussing. All of the others involve third parties (ACORN, which no longer exists) submitting false or perjured voter registrations. Lumping together every voting infraction you can come up with (which, if you actually add up the numbers and compare then to the number of votes cast during the years in question, is pitifully small anyway) doesn’t address the question of in-person voter fraud, which voter ID laws are intended to suppress.

            Since, according to the Washington Post, there were actually 31 cases out of 1 billion votes cast, — tp://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2014/08/06/a-comprehensive-investigation-of-voter-impersonation-finds-31-credible-incidents-out-of-one-billion-ballots-cast/– it is not clear whether the “man in Reynoldsburg” is one of them or not. At best, however, your laundry list would add one extra case. Additionally, I would remind you that being “arrested” is not the same as being convicted, and that in this country, people are considered innocent until PROVEN guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

            The Vermont law does not allow an ACORN representative or anyone else to submit a list of registrations at the polls on voting day and then vote 400 times! It allows ONE individual to present himself or herself at the polls, register, and then vote.

            In short, assuming that the relevant instance from your list is an example not just of an arrest but of a conviction, we now have 32 cases of voter fraud in the United States, rather than 31. More Americans get hit by lightning each year.

            Compare all that to the US’s pernicious centuries-long history of denying millions of Americans their right to vote and the issue begins to look rather different.

          • Christopher Daniels

            Paul,

            You’re confusing voter registration fraud and voter fraud. They are two different things entirely.

            Voter registration fraud involves the submission of false names, duplicate names, and the names of dead people, to election agencies. Election agencies routinely catch these through their internal screening processes. In some cases, persons are charged with fraud. In other cases, the submissions were errors.

            Voter fraud is when someone votes more than once, impersonates someone, destroys ballots, alters absentee ballots, etc. This is incredibly rare.

            It’s important to not conflate the two types of fraud.

  • Jamie Carter

    I think this a very good idea and one that is long overdue.

    However, I take offense at this statement

    ““The biggest obstacle to registering people to vote is convenience,” said Gov. Peter Shumlin,”

    I’m sorry but if you are too inconvenienced to go register then you probably shouldn’t vote because you probably were also too inconvenienced to actually inform yourself as well.

    Voting is NOT a right, it’s a DUTY and with that is the responsibility to be informed about the candidates. We can all have disagreeing opinions as to who is the best candidate, or the best approach to fixing the problems but we all have the responsibility to vet each candidate and make that decision for ourselves.

    Increased participation is a great goal, but I’d like an increase in informed voters, not just more people. If you walk in and simply check off names and only pay attention to the R/D/P/I next to their names then do everyone a favor and stay home.

    • Christopher Daniels

      Maybe we should make your informed vote count more. Or maybe we should make someone who watches Fox News (with its well-documented error rate) count less. Either way, we should have you in charge of determining the knowledge level of another voter and then assign their vote a weight (say 0.8x or 1.2x) based on well-prepared you think they are.

  • Ann Meade

    I used online registration today, worked like a charm. After all the state IT disasters, congrats on success.

  • Paul Richards

    Digger: if you are not going to print the following I would like to know why.;
    John Greenberg; Apparently you didn’t read my post very carefully. I said in part;…”as long as you have the likes of eric holder at the front gate.” Do I have to explain what that means? Don’t let the facts get in the way of a lousy personal slam.
    It’s a shallow argument that there is both no voter fraud going on and that our voting processes are air tight. Take an objective look at the process if you can and tell me we are taking reasonable, common sense safeguards to protect against voter fraud. We obviously are not.

  • John Greenberg

    “Do I have to explain what that means? ”

    Yes.

    • Paul Richards

      “the likes of”; “a category of things distinguished by some common characteristic or quality.”
      You said; “Apparently, you failed to notice that Eric Holder is no longer running the Department of Justice or that he was the AG of the US, and that most of these cases involve STATE laws over which the US AG has no jurisdiction. But there’s no need to let the facts get in the way of a lousy argument.” Thanks for a great example of twisting the meaning around and ending with the obligatory personal slam. I never said or inferred any of the things you said I did but that’s ok, I know where you are coming from. Case closed.