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Ask Bob: Your Last-Minute Pre-Election Questions

A completed early, absentee or mail-in ballot held in the hand of a Vermonter in front of a background of autumnal trees.
Matthew Smith
The Vermont Secretary of State is encouraging Vermonters to drop their ballots in the mail by Saturday, Oct. 24. Voters can also drop ballots off at their town or city clerk's office through Election Day, or vote in person on Nov. 3.

Vermonters have already set an all-time record for voting by mail in the 2020 election. Data from the Secretary of State's office reports more than 171,000 people have returned their ballots so far.

By Election Day on Nov. 3, it's possible more than 90%  of voters will have cast their ballots by mail. VPR's senior political reporter Bob Kinzel takes on some of your last-minute vote-by-mail questions.

  1. Do I still have time to mail in my ballot?
  2. I can't find the ballot that was mailed to me. What should I do?
  3. What's happening to all the mail-in ballots arriving in town offices?
  4. What about smaller towns that hand count ballots?
  5. I voted early. Is there any way to change my vote?
  6. What happens if there's a tie in the presidential race?

Do I still have time to mail in my ballot?

Absolutely. Now, Secretary of State Jim Condos is urging folks to mail in their ballots no later than Saturday, Oct. 24, if they want to be certain that their ballot arrives in time to be counted. That gives the post office a little over a week to get the ballot to the town clerk.

Now, if for some reason a person is unable to mail their ballot, or if they want to drop it off in person, they have those options. And it's really important to remember, some polls open at different times, but all must stay open until 7:00 p.m. So voting in-person on Election Day is definitely still an option.

I can't find the ballot that was mailed to me. What should I do?

Some people may have received a ballot a couple of weeks ago and then put it somewhere, and then all of a sudden the ballot disappeared. If this happens, a voter should contact their town or city clerk immediately to make arrangements to receive another ballot. The clerk will most likely require the voter to sign a document saying, "I did lose my ballot. I can't find it. And that's why I need another one." And then only one ballot will be counted.

What's happening to all the mail-in ballots arriving in town offices?

Communities that have more than 1,000 people are required by state law to count their votes using optical scan machines. You know, when you get the ballot, and you fill in the little circle and then you run the ballot through the machine.

Now, these towns can actually open the ballot envelope and run the ballot through their machines within 30 days of an election. They don't tabulate those votes. The town and city clerks say they process them, and they say there's a big difference.

So clerks with these optical scan machines are processing those ballots right now, because they've got so many of them. On Election Day itself, the ballots that are cast that day will also be run through the machines. That night, the clerks will tabulate them all and have the results.

More from VPR: A Guide To Voting In Vermont For The 2020 General Election

What about smaller towns that hand count ballots?

They've got a lot more work on their hands. These towns represent about 15% of all voters in Vermont. The town clerks can open the big outer envelope the ballot is in, but that's it. They can't open any of those other envelopes until after 7 p.m. on election night. So they probably have the most extra work on Election Day itself.

I voted early. Is there any way to change my vote?

The simple answer is no. And this has happened in a number of states where a candidate was indicted for a serious crime. People had already voted for this person. But once you return your ballot to your town or city clerk, that is it. You can not ask for it back.

What happens if there's a tie in the presidential race?

On Election Day, in the presidential race, the winning candidate must receive at least 270 electoral votes to be declared the winner. There are some scenarios out there where both the incumbent Republican president, Donald Trump, and the Democratic challenger candidate, Joe Biden, could each receive 269 votes. 

The election is decided by the U.S. House of Representatives. Now, some Biden supporters might be pleased with this outcome, because the Democrats are expected to have a pretty solid majority once again in the U.S. House after Election Day. But there's a twist.  Isn't there always a twist?

In this twist, each state in the U.S. House gets one vote. So, Vermont gets one vote. New Hampshire gets one vote. New York State gets one vote. California gets one vote. So if a state has 10 Democrats and eight Republicans in their delegation, then they'll vote for Joe Biden. And if it's the other way around, well, they're going to vote for Donald Trump.

Right now. A majority of states have a delegation where a majority of members are Republican. But this could definitely be up for grabs after this election. And that's the House that counts.

By the way, this process has happened twice before in American history, in 1800 and in 1824. But in both of those cases, it was a situation where no candidate received a majority of Electoral College votes because there were multiple candidates in those races. And it's never happened because of a tie.

Correction 3 p.m.: This story has been updated to indicate that 171,000 ballots have been returned to town and city clerks in Vermont, though not necessarily all by mail.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet reporter Bob Kinzel @VPRKinzel.

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

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."
A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Matt Smith worked for Vermont Public from 2017 to 2023 as managing editor and senior producer of Vermont Edition.
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