This week lawmakers were hard at work to ensure Vermont has an insecure election system in which live ballots are mailed to everyone on the voter checklist with no safeguards. Also, a judge said no to hearing more on a mask rebellion in Newport, and an old dispute in Bennington between political foes was partially settled.
Election bill S.15 would overhaul elections so that the temporary, Covid-cautious system of mail-in-voting in Vermont becomes permanent. To help think through the pros and cons of the proposal, a Republican lawmaker suggested having New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a Democrat, testify on the bill. Gardner, the longest acting secretary of state in the nation, has been a vocal opponent of expanded mail-in voting.
Rep. Samantha Lefebvre, R-Orange, has been one of the bill’s toughest critics. She says Vermont has no need of additional election reforms.
“You know we have the largest open window for early voting, we have the most accessible absentee-ballot program,” she said. “For any reason you can call your town clerk and have your ballot mailed somewhere else for any reason at all — you just ask for it and it can be done.”
Also Rep. Mark Higley, R-Lowell, said he would like to see a signature verification system implemented.
No to hearing more on masks
Orleans County Judge Mary Miles Teachout denied Newport printing store owner Andre Desautels another trial regarding state fines for his refusal to comply with the governor’s mask mandate.
These are not Desautels’ only legal woes: Attorney General TJ Donovan sued Desautels in response to the store’s protests.
Teachout determined that there will be no penalties enforced until at least June, as legal proceedings may continue in an effort to answer Desautels’ new lawyer Robert Kaplan’s questions about the governor’s emergency powers and the real threat of the coronavirus going forward.
The coronavirus — which is associated with only 21 Vermont deaths under the age of 70 — continues to justify a variety of lockdown measures. In states that have removed their mask mandates, cases of the coronavirus continue to go down.
Fines for not enforcing the mask mandate can be up to $1,000 per violation.
Over $137,000 for unproven accusations of racism
The city of Bennington will pay former state legislator Kiah Morris $137,500 due to allegations that she encountered racism and threats in the community.
“No one in Bennington should feel unsafe or unprotected” Selectboard chair Jeannie Jenkins said in a statement.
Amid all the accusations back in 2018, other local residents accused the Morris family of intimidation and of being dishonest about the allegations of racism.
“The only one being racist is her husband, who is accusing people of being Nazis,” said Bennington resident Colleen Harrington.
After the two investigations were concluded, local and state police determined no illegal activity took place.
“I think we all support the First Amendment and that freedom of expression — until we hear something we don’t like,” said Donovan in Rutland after his office determined there were no prosecutable wrongdoings done to Morris.