By Sen. Chris Pearson
Make no mistake about it, our democracy is under threat. There is no credible voice that believes Russia is innocent in the charge of meddling in 2016.
While the White House looks the other way, the Vermont Legislature has been making steady progress to protect the sanctity of our democracy.
To begin with, we all get a paper ballot. That’s always been the law. Our bigger towns use a scanner to count the results, but we can take comfort in knowing paper ballots are there, can be double-checked, and are preserved to make sure results can be verified.
During this year’s legislative session, I worked with the Secretary of State to insert an emergency provision into law so Vermont elections are safe from hackers. In the unlikely event our scanners were compromised, the new law allows Jim Condos (or future Secretaries of State) to bypass the scanners and order ballots counted by hand.
These scanners are not connected to the internet so they are fairly safe. But since they are required for all towns with over 1,000 registered voters, we realized we needed some way to let towns count by hand if the need arose. Imagine if we were weeks from an election and news surfaced that scanners across the country are being hacked, we needed a safety valve. Now we have one. This emergency provision is in place and Vermonters can have confidence our ballot counts have integrity.
Overall, the elections process in Vermont is ahead of the pack. I was proud to author the bill signed in 2016 to make Vermont the fourth state with “automatic voter registration” which means that Vermonters must opt-out of being registered to vote when they get or renew their driver’s license.
Secretary of State Jim Condos tells me this has added over 30,000 eligible voters to Vermont’s voter rolls. And, this process has made it easier and more efficient for towns to keep their voter checklists up-to-date.
Vermont has also enacted Election Day registration so that any eligible Vermonter can register on Election Day and then vote. In addition to helping engage new voters, this law has the benefit of being a fail-safe if someone shows up at their polling place and is surprised to find they were removed from the voter checklist.
Further, in Vermont we can vote early for any reason we want – that’s not the case in nearly half the states. And we can vote by mail if we want – no doctor’s note or vacation itinerary needed. This is especially important as our primary date this year is August 14 and many families will be away from home.
While it’s distressing to watch President Trump debase our election integrity we can take comfort knowing Vermont’s election laws remain sacrosanct. We make it easy to run for office, easy to participate, and easy to have confidence that the outcome reflects the will of voters.
Next we need to tackle money in Vermont politics. This year I championed a ban on corporate campaign donations. It passed the Senate but it stalled in the House. Hopefully next year we’ll make more progress and drive big-money influence out of our state’s political process.
Senator Christopher Pearson, P/D-Chittenden, serves on the Senate Government Operations Committee which oversees election law.