Republicans sue Condos over mail-in voting plan

Jim Condos
Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos. File photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

A group of five Vermonters, that includes one current and a former Republican state representative, has filed a federal lawsuit against Secretary of State Jim Condos alleging that his office’s plan to send ballots to all active voters for the general election will result in widespread voter fraud and violate Vermonters’ right to vote.

The complaint, filed in federal court Friday, was first reported on by VPR and Seven Days and is one of at least 170 such lawsuits that have targeted emergency election procedures in states across the country in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The five plaintiffs in the case are Republican Rep. Brian Smith of Derby; former Chelsea Republican representative Bob Frenier; Tracey Martel, the town clerk in Victory; Raoul Beaulieu of North Hero; and Mary Beausoleil of Lyndon. Deborah Bucknam, an attorney and former GOP candidate for Vermont attorney general who is serving as local counsel.

“I think there’s a lot of room for fraud, a lot of room for ballot miscounting and ballot throwing away,” Smith said Thursday.

“I don’t want to be part of an attack on Jim Condos — I like the man, I think his morals are very high and I think his ethics are very high — but I just don’t like the way that this balloting is going to be happening,” he added.

Smith also said that compared to other years, the mail-in system voting system will create “an election voted on by people who don’t know who they’re voting for.”

The lawsuit argues that Vermont’s current absentee ballot request system is sufficient heading into the general election and that the secretary of state’s plan to send all active voters a ballot later this month will create the potential for voter fraud that will impact the plaintiffs’ personal rights.

While mail-in voter fraud has been a talking point used by Republicans at the national level, including President Donald Trump, evidence suggests it is extremely rare

Last week the president even encouraged voters in North Carolina to attempt to cast two ballots — one by mail and one in person — to test the integrity of the voting procedures.

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The plaintiffs’ lawyers in the Vermont case argue that universal mail-in voting — widely accepted as one of the best ways to make sure as many people can vote as possible — will impact an individual’s right to vote because of the risk for fraud.

“Each such miscast ballot will directly impact and dilute the individual vote of each legitimate Plaintiff voter, for which each Plaintiff will have no remedy once such miscast ballots are received and counted,” the court document says.

“The errors that will occur in sending mail-in ballots to voters under the Directive violates Vermont voters’ constitutionally-protected rights by creating arbitrary differences in the ease with which Vermont voters can vote in the November general election,” it adds.

In a written statement Condos said that this lawsuit and other strategies to stop mail-in voting only “serve to create chaos and confusion around how to vote during a pandemic.”

“At worst it could significantly disenfranchise Vermont voters who were relying on our office to mail them their ballot, or force voters to risk exposure in order to exercise their sacred franchise,” Condos said.

“We are confident that we stand on firm legal ground to prevail in this lawsuit, which attempts to force voters to choose between their safety and their right to vote.  We will focus on conducting the important work of inoculating democracy from COVID-19,” the secretary of state added. “We don’t have time for out of state, DC-style political attacks by partisan political operatives.”

The court document points to the “success” of Vermont’s Aug. 11 primary and its record number of mail-in ballots as an example of why there is no need to send ballots to all voters for the Nov. 3 general election.

However, the lawsuit fails to mention the reason for the more than 150,000 absentee ballot requests for the primary was because Condos had sent postcards to all voters asking if they would like a ballot sent to them. Later in the document, it then alleges that the postcard system used for the primary resulted in many issues with mail being sent to the wrong addresses or out of state.

After the Vermont Legislature gave Condos and his office the authority this spring to set up emergency 2020 election procedure to ensure people could cast ballots safely, the secretary of state set up a test run for universal mail voting in the primary.

Postcards were sent to all voters and they could check a box asking for a ballot to be mailed to them.

The system resulted in record turnout with  174,242 out of the 490,018 registered voters casting ballots in the state.

For the Nov. 3 election, ballots will be sent out in the last two weeks of September to all active voters — without them having to request one. As was the case in the primary, polling locations will remain open on the day of the election and ballots can be returned to town clerks and city hall in person or by mail.

Xander Landen contributed reporting

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Kit Norton

About Kit

Kit Norton is the general assignment reporter at VTDigger. He is originally from eastern Vermont and graduated from Emerson College in 2017 with a degree in journalism. In 2016, he was a recipient of The Society of Environmental Journalists' Emerging Environmental Journalist award. Kit has worked at PRI's weekly radio environmental program, Living on Earth, and has written for the online news site Truthout.

Email: [email protected]

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