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Protecting Election 2020 from Covid-19: A Toolkit for Vermont Activists

If the Covid-19 pandemic continues into November, we will need to change our election practices to make sure voters don’t have to choose between their health and their right to vote. We have the solutions to make our elections both safe and accessible to all. And with this toolkit, you will know what reforms your state needs and where to focus your efforts.

Last Updated: August 25, 2020
Published: August 25, 2020

This is part of the Brennan Center’s Toolkits for Activists Across the Nation.

Jump to a section: 
Political Context  |  What's in Place and What’s Needed  |  Key Dates

Administering an election under pandemic conditions requires undertaking steps to keep voting accessible, safe, and secure. The guide below lays out the problems Covid-19 poses, what preparedness measures Vermont has, and what changes are still needed. But first, we offer some political context for your advocacy.


Advocacy Focus: Local Reform

Local officials have a lot of responsibility over elections. They are a great place to focus advocacy efforts. Though state officials can make any of the changes in this toolkit, we highlight some examples of changes that local elections officials can also make with this symbol:🔸


Political Context

Below is a list of the relevant officials and information about the legislative session.

Governor: Phil Scott (R)  

Secretary of State: James Condos (D)

Legislature: House (D) Senate (D)

Legislative Session: The legislature is scheduled to adjourn on August 30, 2020. Only the governor can call a special legislative session.

Local Elections Officials: In Vermont, local clerks share responsibilities for administering elections. You can look up individual local clerks here.

What Vermont Has and What’s Needed

Three priorities. There are three key areas where we need to shore up our elections systems for success during a pandemic: registration, mail voting, and in-person voting.

Registration

Covid-19 may disrupt the traditional ways Americans register to vote, like get out the vote drives or registering at government agencies. In the crucial weeks before the registration deadline, postal service disruptions may lead many registration forms to arrive at election offices after the deadline.

Preparatory Measures Vermont Already Has Taken:

  • Online voter registration
  • Election Day voter registration

Changes Still Needed:

  • Prepare to extend online and mail voter registration deadlines based on conditions in the state

Voting by Mail

Because of Covid-19, long lines and crowds at the polls pose health risks not seen in previous elections. Allowing every citizen to vote by mail reduces the number of people at the polls on Election Day and decreases the exposure risk to Covid-19.

Preparatory Measures Vermont Already Has Taken:

  • All voters can vote by mail
  • Online tool for requesting a mail ballot for those not automatically sent one
  • No notary or witness requirement for return of mail ballot
  • No ID requirement to vote by mail
  • Provides pre-paid postage for voting by mail
  • Sends vote-by-mail ballots to all active registered voters 

Changes Still Needed:

  • Accept late-arriving ballots postmarked by Election Day
  • Provide post-election notice and cure opportunity for defects on absentee-ballot envelope, including signature mismatch or missing signatures

In-Person Voting

Even with expanded mail voting opportunity, states cannot close polling places. To do so may disenfranchise voters without Internet and mail access, or those who do not wish to cast a ballot by mail. In-person voting must be done in accordance with health guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Preparatory Measures Vermont Already Has Taken:

  • In-person early voting

Changes Still Needed:

  • Ensure sufficient polling places are open and resourced on Election Day🔸
  • Open more in-person early voting locations🔸
  • Take proper public health precautions to ensure safe polling places🔸
  • Hold training sessions for polling-place workers well in advance of Election Day, so that election officials can better anticipate problems with staffing and logistics🔸
  • Increase access to curbside voting at polling locations

Advocacy Focus: Protecting Polling Places

No matter how prepared Vermont is as a matter of policy, elections officials and advocates must stay vigilant about ensuring safe, healthy in-person voting is an option for everyone all the way through Election Day. Here are some important things to know about who makes decisions about polling places in Vermont and what rules govern the process:

  • Polling places cannot be changed less than 15 days before an election except in case of an emergency.🔸
  • The Secretary of State has issued a directive permitting outdoor and drive-through polling places (and drive-through polling places must accommodate walk-up voters).🔸
  • Mask requirements for voters at polling locations are allowed, but police officers enforcing mask orders must provide voters a mask, and a voter may alternatively be provided an opportunity to vote outside the polling place or other reasonable alternative procedures.🔸

Key Dates for Vermont Elections

  • June 27 – August 10, 2020: Early Voting Period for Primary Election
  • August 11, 2020: Primary Election Day
  • September 20 – November 2, 2020: Early Voting Period for General Election
  • November 3, 2020: General Election Day