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US judge rejects challenge to Vermont vote-by-mail system

  • Diane Blodgett opens mail-in ballot envelopes at a polling place at the Barre City Auditorium on August 11, 2020. The secretary of state wants to send every registered voter a ballot for the November election. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

The Associated Press
Published: 9/16/2020 9:32:01 PM
Modified: 9/16/2020 9:33:17 PM

MONTPELIER — A federal court judge on Wednesday rejected a challenge to Vermont’s plan to mail ballots to all of the state’s active voters so they can cast ballots by mail or in person for the November election.

In a one-page judgment filed Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford denied the motion for a preliminary injunction to block the system and he dismissed the lawsuit filed by five Vermonters.

Crawford did tell the people challenging the vote-by-mail system, including a town clerk and a former Republican state representative, they had 30 days to file a notice of appeal.

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos called the decision a win for safe, secure and fair elections.

“We remain on the right course of action: planning for the worst by sending a ballot to all (Vermont) voters, so that no voter needs to choose between protecting their health and exercising their Constitutional right to vote,” he said in a Wednesday statement.

The legal challenge came days before Vermont voters are due to start automatically receiving ballots in the mail.

Voters may return the ballot by mail, drop it off at their town clerk’s office early, or bring it to the polls on Election Day, Condos said.

The mailing of the ballots is scheduled to begin Sept. 21, and any voter who does not receive one by Oct. 1 should contact their town clerk, Condos said this week.

Town and city clerks may begin processing the ballots 30 days prior to the election, including feeding them into vote tabulating machines or storing them securely until they can be counted by hand on election night.

Vote tabulator machines will not display vote counts, only the number of voted ballots, until election night.

Polling places will be operating under social distancing and sanitization guidance, Condos said. Voters who plan to mail in ballots are encouraged to do so at least 10 days before the Nov. 3 election to ensure they are received in time.

The lawsuit that sought to block the system argued that a ballot cast improperly — on purpose or otherwise — would violate the Constitutional rights of Vermonters by “diluting” their votes.

Philip Back, the attorney representing the Secretary of State’s office said the concept of vote dilution did not apply to the discussion about mail-in ballots.

He said the Secretary of State’s office was not depriving anyone of their right to vote, and those challenging the system seemed to be arguing that their rights would be violated in any system that was not perfect.

“Having two ballots isn’t a problem,” Back said. “It’s the voting twice that’s a problem, and we have systems in place to prevent that.”

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