By Rob Roper
Vermont is on the cusp of having the least secure election system in the nation. The bill that passed the Vermont Senate 27-3 (S.15) is now under consideration in the House. It would make permanent the temporary, COVID-emergency provisions adopted for the 2020 general election, including the policy of mailing “live” ballots to all voters who are active on the voter checklist, regardless of whether or not the voter requests an absentee ballot.
Proponents argue that they are trying to “create a balance” between making it easy to vote and maintaining ballot security. That’s the rhetoric, but the truth is that should S.15 become law, Vermont would have no effective security mechanisms to verify the validity of an absentee ballot, and the objective is to have everyone vote absentee (though that is not required). There is no balance, nor any attempt to create any.
Proponents argue that five states (Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Utah and Hawaii) conduct elections by mail with no problems. Maybe, but it is also true that those states employ rigorous ballot security measures for mail in votes, including mandatory voter ID provisions such as signature matching (the signature on the ballot return envelope must match one on file with election officials), or the requirement that the absentee ballot be returned with a driver’s license number or the last four digits of a social security number. There needs to be some sort of verifiable information that allows election officials to have a high degree of confidence that the vote being counted was actually cast by the person to whom the vote is being attributed. Vermont would have no such security measurs.
States that conduct voting by mail also ban large scale “ballot harvesting”, the controversial practice of candidates, parties or special interest groups systematically collecting and returning absentee ballots. In Colorado, the gold standard in mail in voting, for example, it is illegal for anyone to collect and turn in more than ten ballots. In Vermont, large scale ballot harvesting is legal. Though a provision in S.15 prohibits candidates and their paid staffers from engaging in ballot harvesting, it is a largely meaningless. Most state house and senate candidates don’t have paid staff. However, unions, activist organizations, political parties, and lobbyists do, and they would be free to ballot harvest to their hearts’ – and budgets’ – content.
The National Conference of State Legislatures keeps track of voting laws in all fifty states and notes the pros and cons regarding voter access vs. ballot security for each, such as all-mail voting, voter ID requirements, ballot harvesting, early voting, “same day” registration, and automatic voter registration. If S.15 becomes law, Vermont would be the only state in the union to adopt all of the access policies – mostly in their most extreme iterations — and none of the security provisions. In other words, we would have no balance at all between access and security, and the least secure voting system in the country.
In fact, if one were designing a voting system specifically for people who wanted to cheat in an election, it would be hard to come up with a better system than Vermont’s. We will mail live ballots to all active voters, putting between 100,000 and 200,000 unclaimed or unwanted ballots into circulation. Special interest groups would be free to systematically harvest those ballots, and with Vermont’s 45 days of early voting, would have the maximum time available to organize and execute this activity. Automatic voter registration maximizes the number of potential unwanted/unclaimed ballots to target by registering people who are disinterested in voting. Because Vermont has no verifiable ID requirements for validating absentee ballots or identifying fraudulently cast ballots, bad actors could be extremely confident that they would not be caught committing fraud. And, with 30 days of early processing of absentee ballots, even if fraudulent votes were flagged because the real voter showed up at the polls, there is no way to remove the bad votes from the final count.
Election officials at the state and local levels admit, when pressed, that they have no way to verify who actually filled out an absentee ballot. When asked how he would be able to catch someone fraudulently casting someone else’s unclaimed/unwanted ballot, Montpelier City Clerk John Odum said, “No, we can’t necessarily stop them.” This in unacceptable.
For citizens to have confidence that election results are accurate and fair, election officials have to have the tools to verify that the votes cast and counted are actually the votes of the people to whom the votes are being attributed and ensure “one person one vote.” If S.15 becomes law, this will not be the case.
Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. He lives in Stowe.