This is Secretary of State Jim Condos’ response to claims by the Ethan Allen Institute that in 2020, votes were cast in the name of 10 former Middlebury College students who are no longer local residents.
Despite what you read here, we do share the concern that VT’s voter checklist should always be as up-to-date as possible. And I can say that VT’s voter registration checklist is more accurate today than it was yesterday, last month, last year or in the last decade.
That being said, David Flemming and Meg Hansen clearly show a lack of understanding of how VT and Federal laws work with regard to voter registration and the maintenance of the voter checklist. In fact, it appears this was promoted as a public relations piece in support of the “Big Lie.”
Misinformation is very dangerous and since 2020, a threat to our democracy.
The VT Secretary of State does not have the authority to add or remove names to or from the voter checklist. Under Vermont law, those actions are the responsibility of the local town clerk and Board of Civil Authority.
Additions to the checklist are governed by 17 VSA 2144b. Generally, the clerk is empowered to add the names of applicants who submit a registration with the required information. If the clerk has questions about the information or cannot determine the person’s eligibility, he or she may forward the application to the BCA for their review and action.
Removal of names from the checklist is also governed by 17 VSA 2150. If you choose to read this section carefully you will gain a better understanding of the process for removing names.
In particular, subsection (d) describes the process for removing a name if the board believes the person no longer resides in the town. Before doing so, the Board is required to send the voter a notice at their last known address, requesting that the voter confirm they no longer live in the town, or alternatively to state that they do in fact still reside there. If the voter does not respond to the notice, the Board is required to wait until two General Elections have passed since the time of the notice, before removing the voter’s name. If a voter that has been sent a notice shows up to vote, or requests an absentee ballot, they are required to affirm their residency by signing an affidavit before they are allowed to cast a ballot.
This process (providing notice and an opportunity for response before removing the name of a voter that the Board believes no longer resides in town) is required by Federal Law, and is therefore the law in every state. You can find the federal law at 52 USC 20507(d).
Any person or entity, such as the EAI, is free to provide names of voters to the clerk or local BCA that they believe no longer reside in the town, as they have done. The BCA can consider these names and decide as a board whether or not a notice letter should be sent to the individuals identified.
I would also like to point out that, under state and federal law, voters who are on active duty in the military OR living overseas may remain registered and vote in the last place they resided in the United States. This is also true in Vermont for persons confined in a correctional institution (they may remain registered and vote in their last place of residence before being incarcerated). See 17 VSA 2122(a).
It is for reasons like this that it is not always as easy as finding that someone no longer resides in town and therefore assuming their name should be removed. It is this careful consideration of each individual instance that occurs when the BCA decides, as a group, whether or not to send a notice letter to any particular individual.
Mr. Flemming’s statement that “Voter rolls in Vermont have not been cleaned in decades” is simply not accurate, and frankly misinformed. It is this kind of hyperbole that is causing undue mistrust of our elections. Boards of Civil Authority throughout the state are engaging in the process described above on an ongoing basis. By law, they are required to perform a name-by-name review of the voter checklist every two years. See 17 VSA 2150(c).
Pursuant to this provision, the answer to the question of whether the voters rolls will be “cleaned and updated” prior to the 2022 election is yes – they are being updated all of the time on an ongoing basis and have been updated on an almost daily basis.
By making statements like “Voter rolls in Vermont have not been cleaned in decades,” you are doing a disservice to the hard work of all of the Vermonters who serve on these volunteer BCAs and take the work they do very seriously.
In addition, Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) provides a daily update of any changes to driver’s licenses that are then forwarded to the Town Clerks — this could include address, and or name changes.
We did follow up with the clerk in Middlebury to provide any assistance or guidance with the processing of the information you provided, as necessary. Ultimately, by law, it will be up to the BCA in Middlebury to determine whether or not to send a notice letter to the individuals you have identified and initiate the process of removing their name, or receiving confirmation they are still eligible to vote in Middlebury.