Clerks: Mail-in voting pace is brisk, few errors Voter registration rolls see a jump

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A full voting booth – as was common in the 2018 election – will be a rarer sight this year. Telegraph file photos

Area residents are embracing mail-in voting in substantial numbers and making very few mistakes, according to several town clerks. And, since Sept. 2 more than 200 people have registered to vote in nine towns. The Vermont Secretary of State used that date as the cutoff for mailing ballots to voters. After Sept. 2, newly registered voters received their ballots from their town clerk.

But new voters and additional absentee ballots add some complications to the work of election officials. While many Vermont towns use an optical scanner called a “tabulator” to read and count the ballots, some still count by hand. And with the long ballot and greater turnout expected, Election Day could mean a late night at town offices.

The Town of Weston normally counts by hand, but after the August primary vote, Town Clerk Kim Seymour decided to get a tabulator for the big day. “We had so few volunteers available to help on primary day, I decided to ask the state for a machine,” said Seymour, noting that she did not finish her work until 11 p.m. – four hours after the primary polls had closed. On a brighter note, about 14 people have volunteer to help with the Election Day count.

In person voters will be greeted by masked poll workers

Andover, with a checklist of 404, still does a hand count but Town Clerk Jeanette Haight says she has plenty of help. “I’ve got four out of five Select Board members and three of five justices of the peace plus the assistant town clerk.”

With just 347 voters, Windham also does a hand count, according to Town Clerk Mike McLaine.

Cavendish Town Clerk Diane McNamara says she’ll fire up the tabulator at 10 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 30 to count ballots that have already come in, with the help of two justices of the peace. Other clerks, including Deb Aldrich in Chester, will be opening, flattening and inserting the mail-in ballots in their tabulators starting on Election Day, Tuesday morning.

“I think we’ll have time,” said Aldrich.

How many are registered, how many have voted

With the General Election shaping up to bring in a record number of votes, many people are casting ballots early either to avoid the Covid-19 virus on Election Day or to make sure their votes get counted. Most clerks gave the numbers out as of the Saturday Oct. 24 mail. Story continues below chart.

Early Voting by the Numbers

OCT. 24

According to Secretary of State Jim Condos in an email on Monday, 204,628 voted ballots have been received out of a pool of 451,213 active voters.

Fewer ‘defective’ ballots

During the August primary vote, with several ballots sent to each voter and more complex instructions on returning them to election officials, clerks all over Vermont received ballots from voters who did not follow instructions. These are referred to as “defective” and could not be counted. The General Election appears to be different.

Clerks are saying that people have been very careful to follow the instructions for mail-in voting, especially the signature requirement on the ‘Voted Ballot Envelope.’

Every clerk contacted said few or no ballots were defective. “We’ve had none so far,” said Haight, adding that she thought voters have been “very careful and thorough.”

“Everyone signed their envelopes and it looks good,” said McLaine.

Out of more than 840 ballots received in Chester, Aldrich said that only two were defective compared with 28 in the August primary. In Londonderry, only four defective ballots out of the 577 that have arrived to date have been defective, said Town Treasurer Tina Labeau. Seymour said Weston had six in the August primary, but none so far for the general. Ludlow Town Clerk Ulla Cook said there was one so far. Andover, Windham and  Peru also had no defective ballots as of Oct. 26.

Seymour speculated that television ads about how to vote may have helped people to avoid mistakes and Grafton Town Clerk Kim Record said she thought the green slip included with mailing which explained the voting procedure was “very helpful.”

A jump in voter registration rolls

Since Sept. 3, 2020 substantial numbers of people have registered to vote and clerks are saying that it’s a combination of students who are not voting at college, residents who have not voted in a long time — or at all — and either new residents or second homeowners who are now living and voting here. In Chester, 102 people were added to the checklist, while Ludlow’s voter roll bumped up by 75 and Weston posted an increase of 21.

Smaller towns saw smaller jumps, but clerks there still recorded new voters, including nine in Andover, in Windham and a surprisingly high 30 in Peru.

Peru’s Assistant Town Clerk Stephanie Hoffmann told The Telegraph that having someone register who has moved into town and is still on the voter rolls in another jurisdiction is one of the challenges they face. In such a case she calls to notify the previous town so the voter cannot vote there a second time.

Londonderry plans to add a ‘fast lane’ to the drive-through voting setup it used in the August primary election shown here. The new lane will be for dropping off ballots that have been filled out in advance

Londonderry sets up for
drive-through voting

The Town of Londonderry will once again have drive-through voting at its town office at 100 Old School Road in South Londonderry.

According to Labeau, there will be two lanes, a fast lane for dropping off voted ballots and a slow lane for getting a ballot, filling it out and dropping it in the ballot box.

The town website says the drive through will take place “weather permitting,” but the forecast for Election Day doesn’t look threatening so far.

Condos adds instructions for election officials

On Monday Oct. 26, Secretary of State Jim Condos issued an addendum to his statewide elections directive. It addressed how clerks and other election officials should be handling situations involving mail-in ballots being brought (or not being brought) to the polls on Election Day. These procedures are to ensure that voters can cast a ballot, but not more than one.

The other issue the addendum addresses is voter challenges. People representing a candidate or a party can challenge voters on election day under strict rules that are set out in Vermont statutes. Condos says that people intending to make voter challenges must register with the town clerk no later than four days before the Tuesday election, which would be Friday, Oct. 30.

The person intending to challenge must represent either a party, a candidate or a committee supporting or opposing a ballot question and each of those can only have two challengers. The challenger must stay in a specific place near the sign in table and away from the actual voting process. The only grounds on which a challenge can be made is that the voter in question is not the person who appears on the checklist or that person has already voted in the election.

Condos’ directive also addresses what should happen if there are more challengers present than would be considered safe under the state’s Covid-19 guidelines on distancing and occupancy of public buildings.

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Filed Under: AndoverCavendishChesterCommunityCovid 19 CoverageFeaturedGraftonLatest NewsLondonderryWestonWindham

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