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Parts Of Vermont See Surge In Early Voting For 2018 General Election

A hand holding up an I Voted sticker with an American flag.
Angela Evancie
VPR File
In Vermont, early voting starts 45 days before Election Day. It has become popular in some towns in Vermont.

In 2014 — the last non-presidential election year — roughly 17 percent of Vermonters used the early voting system, according to the Vermont Secretary of State's Office. But this year, it's believed the number will double on a statewide basis and in some communities the rate will be considerably higher.

Roughly 40 states allow early voting in one form or another, and Vermont has one of the most lenient laws in the country — early voting here starts 45 days before Election Day.

Find more information on early voting at the Vermont Secretary of State's website.

Two years ago, almost 55 percent of all individuals who voted in Brattleboro cast an early ballot, and Town Clerk Hilary Francis thinks the number will be even larger for the town this year.

"I'd say that we're on par, if not going to exceed what we've done before — which is not unexpected when we look at our turnout for the primaries," said Francis. "That was record-breaking in terms of early voting, as well as regular turnout."

More from VPR — It's All Certified: Vermont's August Primary Spurred Heavy Voter Turnout [Aug. 21]

"I'd say that we're on par, if not going to exceed what we've done before." — Brattleboro Town Clerk Hilary Francis

Early voting in Vermont has grown steadily over the past 20 years and received a boost when the 45-day timeframe was put into place 10 years ago.

People can request a ballot by mail and send it back in, drop it off at their town clerk's office, or they can vote at the office in person.

The percentage of people using the early voting system varies dramatically throughout Vermont.

In 2016, Brattleboro led the state with a rate of 55 percent. The lowest was in Belvidere, where just 4 percent of residents voted early.

Francis thinks voters in Brattleboro now are familiar with the early voting system and see it as a convenient way to cast a ballot.

"A lot of people like to vote from the comfort of their own homes and have a ballot mailed to them,” said Francis. “I think the longer it's around, the more comfortable people are becoming with it, the more common it's becoming. And we're seeing those numbers increasing."  

Early voting is also very popular in Montpelier. City Clerk John Odum is a proponent of the system, and he thinks it increases voter turnout.

Odum said there's a lot of interest this year in this method of voting.

"Oh yes — it's strong, it's robust. We're full steam ahead with voting already,” said Odum. “It would not shock me at all to see about 40 percent of our final vote being cast on early ballots." 

“There's a big statement vote going on here, either pro or con, about how people feel about the administration in Washington." — Montpelier City Clerk John Odum

Odum is expecting a strong voter turnout in Montpelier this year because he thinks many people view this election as a watershed moment in politics.

"Presidential [election] everyone's always, always energized — but the energy around this one is every bit as much as a presidential,” said Odum. “There's a big statement vote going on here, either pro or con, about how people feel about the administration in Washington."  

Up in Newport, the rate of early voting is below the statewide average. City Clerk James Johnson thinks many people in his community still prefer to go to the polls on Election Day.

"I think it's kind of a thing they'd like to do in person, most people," said Johnson.  

Johnson supports the early voting system because he thinks there are voters who definitely benefit from it.

"I think for people who are leaving for the winter, I get a lot of those people in. You know they're leaving and they want to vote before they leave," said Johnson. "And elderly [people] that can't get down here, they'll call in and ask for a ballot."

State election officials remind people using the early voting system that once they have returned their ballot to their town clerk, they can't retrieve it if they happen to change their mind about any of the candidates.

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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