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Vermont Public wants your concerns to inform our election coverage. Tell us: What do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for your votes?

Early voting has begun for Vermont's primary election. Here's how it works

Closeup of a Vote by Mail envelope, official balloting material - business reply mail, USPS first class mail.
Darylann Elmi
/
iStock
To vote by mail in the upcoming primary election in August, a person needs to request a mail-in ballot from their town clerk.

Early voting has started for Vermont’s primary election, which will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 13.

Voters will select statewide and legislative candidates for Vermont’s three major parties: Republicans, Democrats and Progressives.

Early mail-in voting for the primary election is different from any other statewide election in Vermont, and Vermont Public’s senior political reporter Bob Kinzel sat down with host Jenn Jarecki to explain some of the differences. This interview was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript below, which has been edited for length and clarity.

We're partnering with America Amplified to answer your questions about the voting process this year. Submit a question.

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Jenn Jarecki: So Bob, let's start with early voting. What are the options when it comes to voting in the primary election?

Bob Kinzel: Well Jenn, right now, folks can cast their ballot in person anytime at their local town clerk's office, or if they want to, they can contact their town clerk and request that a ballot be sent to them. Now, if a person chooses the mail option, after they fill it out they really have two choices: They can send it back in, or they can drop it off at the clerk's office in person.

Now, I want to point out that it's really important that there's a big difference between the general election and the primary election in terms of mail-in ballots. In the primary election — the one coming up in August — a person needs to request a mail-in ballot from their town clerk, but in the general election in November, ballots will automatically be sent out to all voters.

Now, just turning back to the primary election for a moment, people will receive three ballots — one for each party — but they can only fill out one of those. The other two are left blank. They will also be sent two envelopes to return the ballots, and this part is really important: There's one envelope for the ballot that they filled out, and one envelope for the other two discarded ballots. Secretary of State Sarah Copeland-Hanzas explains:

Sarah Copeland Hanzas: So, you have to return all three. And there's separate envelopes so that nobody knows which ballot you executed and which two you sent back as not voting.

Bob Kinzel: Jenn, that's an important point because this is different from the presidential primary in March, when it's recorded which party ballot you selected. In the August primary election, nobody knows except the voter.

Jenn Jarecki: So, folks will have to request their primary ballots from their town clerk's office. What happens if they fail to send in the two discarded ballots? Does the filled-out ballot still count?

Bob Kinzel: Yes it can, and here's what happens. A new law allows town clerks to check that a voter has returned both envelopes. Now, if there's a problem, the town clerk will contact the voter by using the information that's on the outside of the envelope. Montpelier City Clerk John Odum explains how this process works:

John Odum: So, we'll get you out a card or try to contact you over the phone and let you know that your ballot did not come in correctly and give you an opportunity to come in and fix it. And that's why we open these letters, the mailings from the voter, within just a couple of days after we get them, just to make sure if there is a problem, we can deal with it quickly.

Bob Kinzel: And Jenn, you might think that this situation could take place from time to time, but John Odum tells me it hardly ever happens.

Jenn Jarecki: Bob, do officials think that the early voting system increases voter participation in elections?

Bob Kinzel: They definitely do. Secretary of State Sarah Copeland-Hanzas explains why:

Sarah Copeland Hanzas: I think the flexibility of making sure that people can vote, you know, at whatever point they want to in the 45 days leading up to the election is important. And then I think it also is really helpful for people in terms of feeling informed when they vote.

Bob Kinzel: Jenn, I should note that early voting is becoming more popular. Between 30%-40% of voters are now selecting this option.

More from Vermont Public: Vermont sees a record number of mail-in ballots for the 2022 midterm election

Jenn Jarecki: We've heard a lot about ballot security in recent years. Do election officials think this early voting mail-in system is secure?

Bob Kinzel: Jenn, they definitely do. Montpelier City Clerk John Odum thinks it would be hard for someone to cast a fraudulent ballot.

John Odum: And I can tell you if there were ever signs that it wasn't going well. You know, if we were tipping too far in the side of making sure people get to vote, and not far enough on the side of security, then it'd be the clerks themselves to be the first people to jump up and say, "Look, we need to we need to put some speed bumps into this process."

Bob Kinzel: And Jenn, as part of the security measures, Odum told me that when an early ballot comes in, that information is put immediately on the city's checklist. So, a person could not come in and vote again on election day itself, because the checklist would show, "Hey, they've already voted."

Jenn Jarecki: Bob, do you think that early voting has other impacts on the elections and how candidates reach out to voters?

Bob Kinzel: You know, I think it really has. Campaigns are encouraged to identify their core supporters early and get them to vote as soon as possible. And then they need to dedicate resources to make this happen. And then, when they launch their ads in the final weeks of a campaign, these ads are targeted more at undecided voters because the candidates are hoping that their core supporters have already voted.

More from Vermont Public: The evolution of early voting in Vermont

Jenn Jarecki: How unique is Vermont's early voting mail-in system? I mean, do most other states offer the same options?

Bob Kinzel: Jenn, it's quite unusual. While many states offer early voting — usually around two weeks before an election — only seven other states offer early mail-in ballots. And Vermont's 45-day window to vote either by mail or in person is the longest in the country.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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