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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

State Tries To Avoid Showdown Over Primary Election Date

Lawmakers are considering moving the date of Vermont's primary election because the Department of Justice has been cracking down on states that hold primaries in the latter part of August and in September.

The Department of Justice argues that these late dates don’t give states enough time to send out general election ballots to overseas voters, many of whom are members of the military, if there’s a recount in one of the primary contests.

"To prevent potential issues with the Department of Justice in the future I think it is worthy of consideration," House Speaker Shap Smith on moving up the Vermont primary election date

This has been an issue in Vermont because the state has had a recount in the last two election cycles in the gubernatorial race.

The Department of Justice has made it clear to Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos that unless the primary date is moved up, it might come in and impose an earlier date.

After speaking with officials at the Justice Department, House Speaker Shap Smith said the best approach is for Vermont to hold its primary in early August, beginning in 2016.

“I actually don’t like the idea of changing the primary date at all,” said Smith. “But I think prospectively, to prevent potential issues with the Department of Justice in the future, I think it’s worthy of consideration from a precautionary standpoint.”

The House Government Operations Committee agreed with this compromise. Committee Chairwoman Donna Sweaney says trying to move the date up this year would have posed serious logistical problems for many statewide and legislative candidates. “Because it is very late and we still have to pass the bill through the House and then we’ll be in a committee if we conference,” said Sweaney. “So by the time we get through probably this whole process, we’d be close to the first date for filing for candidates.”

Secretary of State Condos says he’s been urging lawmakers to address this issue for the past year and a half and he’s disappointed that it’s taken this long to get the Legislature to deal with it. “I’m not concerned with the strategy of whether it’s this year or next year. My concern is to make sure that I protect the constitutional right of every eligible voter,” said Condos. “And whether that be here in Vermont or somewhere else in the world, if they’re eligible to vote in our primary races, they deserve to have that opportunity.”

The full House is scheduled to debate this bill on Thursday.

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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