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How Many Vermonters Have Already Voted? A Lot.

A blue and white envelope containing a vote by mail ballot.
Bill Oxford
This year, more people have already requested absentee ballots than voted in Vermont's largest primary election to-date. Thousands have already cast their vote with early voting.. What does that mean for Election Day?

Vermont's primary election is Tuesday, Aug. 11. But this is an unusual year. Because of the pandemic, the Secretary of State's office has been encouraging people to request absentee ballots. Vermonters can vote as early as 45 days before the election, so some ballots went out in June.

VPR digital producer Abagael Giles has been looking into the nuts and bolts of how early voting by mail is working in Vermont this year, and spoke with The Frequency hosts Anna Van Dine and Henry Epp. you can listen to their conversation, here.

Are more Vermonters voting early this year?

According to Vermont's Secretary of State, Jim Condos, the short answer is: yes.

For context, the 2016 primary — the last presidential election year — set a new record for overall voter turnout in a primary election in Vermont. According to Condos, 120,000 people voted in that primary.

More from Vermont Edition: Secretary of State Condos Answers Questions On Voting In Primary, General Elections

Condos said that so far in this 2020 primary, more people have already requested absentee ballots in Vermont than voted in that record-setting primary election overall.

As of Wednesday, Aug. 5, these were the numbers for the 2020 Primary:

  • 149,685: The number of early/absentee ballots requested in Vermont
  • 81,853: The number of early/absentee ballots returned to town clerks

Comparatively, in Vermont's last primary in Aug. 2018, the state saw:

  • 107,637: Total votes cast
  • 17,086: Total absentee votes cast

And in Vermont's record-setting 2016 Aug. primary, the state saw:

  • 120,132: Total votes cast
  • 22,363: Total absentee votes cast

(All data courtesy Vermont Secretary of State's Office, dated Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020).
What Secretary of State Jim Condos said he finds most interesting, is that more people have already voted absentee in this primary than did in 2016 and 2018 combined, by more than 24,000 votes.

So, as of Aug. 5, six days prior to Primary Day, almost 82,000 people had already returned their absentee ballots to their town clerks. On Monday, almost a week out from the election, 64,000 Vermonters had returned ballots to their town clerks.

Will Vermont see record voter turnout in the 2020 Primary?

The short answer is: probably.

Here's Secretary of State Jim Condos' answer:

Condos said that he expects a confluence of factors will heighten voters' interest this summer: People are at home, they can vote remotely, and, we have contested statewide races in the Democratic, Republican and Progressive primaries, which tends to generate turnout.

However, Condos points out that town clerks haven't looked at or examined any of the ballots that have been submitted. As a result, state officials don't yet know if the people who voted early are regular primary voters, or if they are new voters.

For key deadlines, voting accommodations and more information, head here.

Additionally, Condos said election officials don’t know how many of those people made an error that renders their ballot uncountable in this election, but he did say that typically in Vermont, overall, 1% or fewer of the ballots voted in an election are rejected.

For context, nationally, the average among states is for 3-4% of ballots to be rejected in a given election.

New York State's primary has been mired with delays in getting official results. When will election results come in for Vermont's primary?

The short answer is: one week after the primary election, on Aug. 18.

Secretary Condos said Vermont's laws require that official election results be reported no later than one week after Election Day. States have different election laws, and some allow for longer deadlines — 14, 21 days.

Secretary of State Jim Condos on when Vermont will see official results from the Aug. primary.

This year, some states, among them New York, created more flexible timelines for their vote-by-mail initiatives, using the postmarked date on the returned ballot. Vermont was not one of them.

Vermont does not accept and will not accept any ballot that comes in to a town or city clerk after 7 p.m. on election night, regardless of whether it's an early absentee ballot, an in-person vote, or an overseas or military vote. That's the cutoff.

Vermont voters note: If you have not mailed your ballot yet, drop it off ASAP with your town clerk.

More from VPR: Vermont's 2020 Primary Election Is Like No Other. Here's What You Need To Know

What does it mean to "process" a ballot, and how will town clerks meet these deadlines?

The short answer is: Thanks to a special provision for this year, many town clerks have been processing ballots returned by mail for almost a month, by opening the "voted" envelopes and feeding the ballots (without looking) into a tabulator machine or a secure ballot box, depending on the town.

For the primary election, voters had to return three ballots. (In the November general election, they will return just one ballot).

Watch the VPR-PBS 2020 Primary Debates:

You'll get a ballot for each party — Democratic, Republican and Progressive. You only fill out one, but return all three, including the two you leave blank. Upon receiving the full package, town clerks have to sort through those ballots in a very regimented way, with witnesses, to physically get that ballot into the secure ballot box or tabulator machine. The tabulator machine scans each ballot, and later reports the results.
Until this year, clerks weren't allowed to even open those envelopes until the day before Election Day. This year, clerks were allowed to start processing ballots by opening them and putting them in the ballot box or tabulator up to 30 days ahead of time.

Here is Sally Ober, Town Clerk in Lincoln:

Listen to Lincoln Town Clerk Sally Ober describe processing ballots for the 2020 primary.

Every day leading up to the election, town clerks report to the Secretary of State's Office how many ballots went through the machine, but no one can see or read anywhere what the results are. However, the votes are sitting there, in town vaults, right now.

When the election is over at 7 p.m. on election night, the clerk manually feeds a special card into the tabulator, then turns a key in the back, and the machine spits out a receipt with the vote totals.

Then, there’s a week-long process of review, etc. and the clerks send the results to the “Canvas” (one representative from each major political party plus Condos) who votes on the following Tuesday, whether to accept and report the results as official.

Listen to Abagael Giles explain all this in the Aug. 6 episode of The Frequency, here.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with digital producer Abagael Giles @AbagaelGiles.

We've closed our comments. Read about ways to get in touch here.

Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
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