Sen. Benning predicts battle over new vote-by-mail bill

By Guy Page

The transcript of yesterday’s Senate discussion of the universal vote-by-mail bill reveals misunderstandings by a key senator, and the threat of the Legislature’s first hot floor battle conducted in the “virtual” realm.

The Senate was discussing the House Government Operations Committee’s proposed amendment to the pandemic emergency vote-by-mail law  passed in March. The law, proposed and championed by Secretary of State Jim Condos, requires Condos and Gov. Phil Scott to sign off before absentee ballots are mailed to every registered voter in the state. Scott insists the decision be left to a neutral, five-person panel. Gov Ops drafted a bill leaving the decision to Condos alone.

Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) asked Gov Ops Chair Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham):

“Can I ask you whether you’re familiar with any litigation going on around the country that has sought to block these efforts?”

state of Vermont

Sen. Joe Benning (top, right) explains concerns about new vote-by-mail bill to Senate Gov. Ops chair Jeanette White (bottom left) as Sen. Dick Mazza looks on.

Sen. White: “Not that I know, and I do know that in some states this is seen as highly partisan, but I also know that Idaho which is considered a very red state has been doing this kind of voting for a number of years so it isn’t it isn’t really a partisan issue at all.”

If Sen. White is comparing the Vermont plan to Idaho’s, she is incorrect in at least one important aspect. Although due to the pandemic the Idaho May 19 primary election was conducted solely by absentee ballot, the State of Idaho website clearly says specifically that voters must request absentee ballots. By contrast the Vermont plan would unilaterally mail ballots to every registered voter.

Benning: “OK, well, I I heard last night from somebody who should know that there are in this person’s estimate 11 states that now have this as the subject of a litigious process.”

Benning is correct. In California, Republicans are suing to stop Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s vote-by-mail plan. In Nevada, Republicans unsuccessfully sued to stop an universal mailing of ballots, a plan similar to Vermont’s. President Trump has threatened to withhold grant funding to Nevada, Michigan and one other state over their vote-by-mail plans.

In Texas, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina, Democrats are suing the Republican state government to require vote-by-mail. In Pennsylvania, Democratic groups are suing to ease restrictions on vote-by-mail.

Benning said his local town clerk opposes voting-by-mail.

“My curiosity got raised because I had not heard from one town clerk in my district either for or against the process. So….I sent a note out to my local town clerk and I said, ‘what’s up here?’ And she came right back and responded that she thinks it’s a complete waste of money, that there are always people who are going to want to mail in an absentee ballot and there are always people who are going to want to show up to the polls because that’s the traditional…experience.”

A Chronicle of the Vermont State House survey of all municipal clerks published today reveals that of the 27 respondents, about half support the SOS plan. A large minority cite concerns about potential fraud.

Benning continued: “I know the excuse is Covid-19 and trying to keep people safe, but as I said to you in my email we have an alternative by way of an absentee ballot that makes perfect sense to cure that problem. In my town clerk’s opinion, she thought the best way to spend this money is not to mail out ballots to everyone but to mail out a postcard to everyone and say if you are uncomfortable about coming to the polls,  we encourage you to file for an absentee ballot.

“I think part of my role on the Rules Committee is to try to avoid controversy in order for us to get out of the building an adjournment on time. I don’t think this bill is a shoo-in by any stretch of the imagination. I think it is controversial.”

Sen. Benning also said his study of absentee voting shows universal vote by mail might actually benefit his party. “I don’t subscribe to this as a party issue.”

The Zoom recording of the Senate discussion cut off in mid-sentence. The rest of the discussion had not been posted as of 9 a.m. this morning.

At the Senate Gov Ops discussion on Tuesday, the threat of potential voter fraud was raised by Sen. Allison Clarkson (D-Windsor), and answered (36 minutes) by Dep. Secretary of State Chris Winters:

“I’ve been in the secretary of state’s office for over 20 years now, Secretary Condos more than 10  … and we just have not seen those complaints of voter fraud nothing like we’ve seen in North Carolina. We’ve had a lot of votes, a lot of elections, a healthy amount of vote-by-mail we have had not seen that and the other thing that I do want to say is I really appreciate that Governor Scott in discussing this issue with us he himself has said voter fraud is not a concern for him, that he knows, he thinks it’s it’s overblown.

“It’s not that we’re not concerned about voter fraud. We have not seen it happening in the state of Vermont. We’re always on the lookout for it.”

Clarkson did not ask what steps the Secretary of State’s office has taken to ferret out voter fraud. Nor did Winters expand on how “we’re always on the lookout for it.” The bill passed Gov Ops 4-1, with Sen. Brian Collamore (R-Rutland) voting no.

Read more of Guy Page’s reports. Vermont Daily is sponsored by True North Media.

Image courtesy of state of Vermont

11 thoughts on “Sen. Benning predicts battle over new vote-by-mail bill

  1. Posted comment did not appear

    Thanks for clarifying all this and putting yourself out there by setting the record straight with such grace. Great to hear you do not support the VT version of nationalizing our elections – a longtime Dem pipedream to destroy our constitution and democratic republic and the only way the dishonest Dems can ever be assured of a win. We cannot let this happen.

    They’ve done the math – as no one in there right mind will vote for them except their beneficiaries. It’s the public sector union families and others who live high off the VT hog and recipients of our largesse against We The People who can no longer support their gravytrain.

    My apologies – possible errors in story aside – should have waited for more definitive evidence of a stance. And yes clarification is crucial. Imagine how Trump feels lol. 😉

  2. It is a great disservice to the American public when authors of articles do not conduct proper research before forming opinions. It is a great embarrassment, especially to those of us who’ve spent years as Vermont Republicans trying to attract Vermont voters to constitutional and fiscally responsible governing, when those articles lead to comments like the ones displayed here. So let me clear some things up.

    Bob Orleck: I do not serve on the Senate Government Operations Committee. Haven’t served on that committee for at least four years. I chair Senate Institutions and I also serve on Senate Judiciary. Therefore your claim that I must have been one of the 4 on that committee voting for this bill is clearly unfounded. And false. For the record, the 4 on that committee who DID vote for the bill were Senators White, Clarkson, Bray and Pollina. For my particular position on this bill, you’ll find that below.

    You also claim that you “offered [me] the opportunity to address this on “Voter Fraud is Real” but [I] apparently chose to ignore it.” Is “Voter Fraud is Real” a media platform of some kind? If it is, I’m not familiar with it. So my apologies for missing it. If it was on Facebook, be advised I’m doing everything I can these days to stay off that platform. If you are looking for a direct answer from me on any question, I’ll extend to you the same offer I’m making to Guy Page and anybody else who wants to contact me.

    Guy Page: I’ll confess I’m as confused as Bob Orleck and Stardust about what my position is on this bill after reading your article. Readers of the Caledonian Record, my local newspaper, are very much aware of my position if they read the May 29th editorial supporting it. What I like about the Caledonian is that they’ve never had a problem calling me directly, so they know exactly what my position is about any particular subject. So have dozens of other newspapers, radio and television reporters.

    Trouble is Guy, you’ve written an article which presents more as opinion than fact. That opinion is in turn, by your own admission, based on a partial ZOOM conference that got cut short right in the middle of the conversation. I don’t know if you ever reached out to Senator White, but you certainly never contacted me. That’s problematic, because now commenters on this site are drawing their own conclusions and making remarks that are based on your opinion of that aborted conversation, rather than fact. Anyone who actually knows the fact looks at those commenters as conspiracy theorists, which embarrasses all of us.

    As I think about it Guy, I can’t remember one time you’ve ever reached out to me. This is the second time you’ve written something about me that has me trying to clarify my position. You will recall the first time, because I had to reach out to you. Meg Hansen told me that you told her, and she therefore assumed it was fact (despite my strenuous objection!) that I voted for the abortion bill: H.57. As I pointed out to you from the Senate Journal (on YOUR laptop, I would add) I voted for an amendment to the bill that stripped out House language clearly saying a fetus had no legal rights in Vermont. I then showed you that it was I who called for a roll call on the bill itself and was the first senator to vote “NO” on the bill. So imagine why I’m frustrated when I continue to run into Republicans who think I voted for H.57.

    So here’s the deal Guy. Please pick up the phone and call me. Feel free. I actually encourage it. (The same offer is made to anybody reader here who wants to know what my position is, wants to lambaste me because they disagree or, heaven forbid, say they agree with me.) My contact information is listed on the legislative website. But here’s my cell phone: 802-274-1346. Feel free to call it. I’m up until 11:00pm most nights and wake up before 5:30am. Would appreciate your not calling during those sleep hours unless it is an emergency. If we ever get back into the statehouse and we pass each other in the hall, feel free to stop me.

    So now for my position on the so-called “mail-in ballot” bill, S.348. I agree with Jim Condos on two things. First, voters need to be safe. Second, we want everybody who can vote to do so. After that, we have an argument about how that should happen and I’m opposed to this bill.

    He believes that mailing ballots to every current resident is the way to keep voters safe. I disagree for two reasons. First, we already have a system in place called “absentee balloting.” Anyone who is uncomfortable going to the polls can now ask for a ballot. Town clerks are familiar with it, so they don’t need special training. We don’t need to re-invent this wheel.

    There is no question a mass mailing dilutes security. As a long standing member of Lyndon’s Board of Civil Authority, I’ve spent many hours helping to purge our checklist of voters who are no longer residents or who have died. Despite our best efforts, we ALWAYS miss people. We are only a handful of people and we simply don’t have the ability as humans to be 100% perfect. Unleashing a couple hundred thousands of “live ballots” into what promises to be a contentious election year at the national, state and local levels is an invitation to mischief. Do I believe there will be widespread fraud? No. But as Sarah Buxton and (before he died) David Ainsworth could tell you, it only takes one to impact an election. By having voters specifically ask for an absentee ballot there is at least a measure of security because you are mailing it to a known entity. With S.348, no such security exists.

    Secondly, I think Rob Roper has a point about “ballot-harvesting,” although I question just how rampant that would be with most of us being hyper-vigilant in this next election watching for mischief. But every group with an interest, from VPIRG to Mothers for Trump, would suddenly know that potentially every house contains a live ballot. This provides them motivation to offer assistance, be it who to point out to the voter is the candidate supporting their cause or to offer to “save a stamp” by letting them take the ballot to the mailbox or town clerk. Part of the problem with this bill is that it contains nothing about limiting who is able to be present when the voter fills it out, or who is authorized to carry it to the mailbox or drop it off at the town clerk’s. Without on file signatures at the town clerk’s office, there is nothing for town clerks to cross-check. (I also think most town clerks would go ballistic if such a responsibility was forced upon them.)

    At the end of the day, my position is quite simple. The Condos position uses COVID-19 money. Use that money to send a post card to every registered voter to remind them that, if they are uncomfortable going to the polls due to this pandemic, all they have to do is ask and an absentee ballot will be sent to them. It’s a system already in place, won’t require any new training, is measurably secure, and will minimize any potential mischief in an election year that promises to be quite contentious. For all these reasons, I don’t like S.348. If anyone is still seeking clarification, you know how to find me.

    • “Without on file signatures at the town clerk’s office, there is nothing for town clerks to cross-check. (I also think most town clerks would go ballistic if such a responsibility was forced upon them.)”

      Joe Benning, yours is one of the few rational people in the legislature on the mail-in issue.
      Giving Condos, a known Dem/Prog partisan eager to dilute voting requirements, FULL AUTHORITY BY (a new) LAW is absolutely nuts.

      Sending out postcards to all registered voters, as one Town Clerk suggested, is a great idea. The cards would advise/remind voters to REQUEST a regular absentee ballot, in case they are afraid to vote in NOVEMBER, MORE THAN FIVE MONTHS IN THE FUTURE!!!

      All Town Clerks already are highly familiar with the absentee ballot process. There would be: No learning curve; No excuses; No fuss; No muss.

      Mail-in voting has been on the Vermont Dem/Prog agenda for years.
      Here comes along a golden opportunity: THE OVERBLOWN VIRUS SCARE

      Interviewed Town Clerks, who prefer to remain anonymous, say, “IF THERE IS A FRAUD, YOU ARE NOT GOING TO KNOW IT”.

      No wonder Condos has been saying there is no fraud.
      He does not know, and neither do the Town Clerks.

      NOTE: TSA and all airlines require a photo ID before they check you in, and allow you on board.
      Voting is far more important than taking an airline trip. Requiring recent photo IDs, etc., is not voter suppression.

      Part of a VERIFIED PAPER TRAIL is not just the ballot, but also the copies of valid/up-to-date documents on file at Town Clerk’s offices, such as: 1) a Photo ID, and 2) a copy of Citizen Papers (which likely have an old photograph), and/or 3) a copy of a Birth Certificate.

      IF IN-PERSON VOTING, RECENT PHOTO ID, AND PROOF OF RESIDENCE (such as a property bill), MUST BE PRESENTED BEFORE VOTING

      IF ABSENTEE VOTING, RETURNED BALLOT MUST BE NOTARIZED TO ENSURE ITS VALIDITY

  3. Republicans in California are suing Gavin Newsom because it’s unconstitutional for him to declare universal mail in voting. Governors do not have that power.

  4. More of the same JB. Credit where due – keep up the great work Senator Benning – we need yalls.

    • I rescind…just goes to show how easily we can be fooled by Democrat doublespeak when uttered by Rs who are actually Rinos. *shame*

  5. Read this article again. Is Republican Joe Benning for or against the kind of “mail-in voting” lusted for by the Democrats and their main promoter on this, Jim Condos, Democrat Secretary of State? It seems to suggest he is opposed but fast forward to the end of the article where it says: “The bill passed Gov Ops 4-1, with Sen. Brian Collamore (R-Rutland) voting no.” Must be that Senator Benning, a member of the Government Ops Committee was one of the 4 who voted to pass the bill in the committee. I hope you would like an explanation from this Republican Senator. I offered him the opportunity to address this on “Voter Fraud is Real” but he apparently chose to ignore it. What’s the deal Joe?

  6. Typical. A misinformed, ignorant lazy legislator takingva position on critical legislation based on lack of knowledge. When will we ever, if ever, elect responsible trust worthy folks?????

  7. Complete mail-in voting, what could possibly go wrong with this boondoggle,
    just watch the gaggle of fools who supports this very blemished process has
    more holes in it than a sieve has fraud written all over it !!

    We’ve been voting since day one, dates are noted and if you are incapacitated
    or defending our constitution in the military get a mail-in ballot.

    This charade is being promoted now for one reason & one only, and it’s not because
    of the Wuhan Virus, as a democrat once stated ” Never let a crisis go to waste ” and
    liberals a trying to fly that flag for this election.

    Wake Up People, if it looks like a skunk, smells like a skunk it’s probably a skunk and
    we have a state house full of them.

  8. Winters and Condos do not know if a fraud would occur, and neither do the Town Clerks.
    Only the most egregious fraud cases end up in court.

    Here we are talking about systemic fraud, because the system is flawed from the get go.

    The voter lists are riddled with names of people who left Vermont, or who have died.

    There are great deficiencies regarding up to date photo IDs, copies of birth certificates, copies of citizen papers.

    Much of that documentation does not exist in the Town Clerk files.

    Winters and Condos know this, but act like they don’t.
    They are just whistling past the graveyard.

    Condos wants to INDISCRIMINATELY mail ballots to every Tom, Dick and Harry on the voter lists, whether they belong there or not.

    That in itself is fraudulent, because Condos knows about these corrupted lists and the document deficiencies.

    He misleadingly calls his mail-in “universal”, as if THAT makes it OK.

    All this is far beyond rational.

    When will sane people finally sound off about this travesty and malfeasance.
    If I were Governor, I would bar Condos from his office.

    Enough is enough.
    Go ply your shenanigans elsewhere.

    Sending out postcards to all registered voters is a great idea, advising them to request a regular absentee ballot, in case they are afraid to vote in NOVEMBER, MORE THAN FIVE MONTHS IN THE FUTURE!!!

    All Town Clerks already are highly familiar with the absentee ballot process.

    No learning curve.
    No excuses.

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