Absentee Ballots Coming In Steadily

by Doug McClure

HARDWICK–Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 primary on August 11 is being conducted primarily by mail-in ballots. Hardwick Town Clerk Alberta Miller said her office is mailing ballots out in batches, and thus far 441 ballots have been received. She said “We are receiving requests daily” for ballots, and said based on the number of ballots received “At this time, I think it is very possible we will have a larger number than 2016.” In Wolcott, of the 279 ballots mailed out approximately 75 have been received so far, according to Assistant Town Clerk Allison Bigelow.

With almost two weeks to go, the number of cast ballots in Hardwick exceeds the 2018 primary’s numbers, according to Miller. The 2016 primary had 508 votes cast. According to the Vermont Secretary of State, a total of 702 ballots were cast earlier this year for the Presidential Primary. Even if the current mail-in ballot turnout matches 2016 or even the Presidential Primary, though, it represents a tiny fraction of Hardwick’s registered voters, which numbered 2,320 as of the Presidential Primary earlier this year according to the Secretary of State.

Wolcott’s 1,132 voters cast 391 votes in the 2020 Presidential Primary. In 2018’s August Primary, 149 voted and 29 were by mail. In 2016, Bigelow said 157 votes were cast in the August primary with 48 by mail.

The majority of the voting process being handled by mail-in ballot means a massive increase in the number of votes coming in by mail. Miller said that for the 218 primary’s 364 ballots cast just 48 came in by mail that year. Miller said the town clerk will draft the Board of Civil Authority for counting the bond requests and statewide offices will be counted with a tabulator. While a heavily modified in-person-voting option could not be legally avoided, Miller encouraged people to use the absentee process. In-person voting will be conducted on the third floor of the Memorial Building from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Miller said “We will require masks and have a hand sanitizer station. Social distancing will be required and we will have limited booths available. It’s going to be very challenging so we are trying to encourage the absentee process as much as possible.” As with most things these pandemic days, what November’s voting will look like is anybody’s guess.

Under Vermont law, voters may register to vote up to and including the day of the election. Online registration is at olvr.vermont.gov, or voters can print out and mail in the registration form from sos.vermont.gov/media/32ufkoys/2017-voter-app.pdf or by contacting the town clerk.

For those have not received a mail-in ballot yet and are a registered voter, they can request a ballot at Vermont MyVoter Page, mvp.vermont.gov, printing out and mailing the form at sos.vermont.gov/media/3opimqn2/vtabsenteerequestgeneric.pdf or contact the town clerk. Ballot requests must be sent before the town clerk’s close of business the day before elections, and must be “returned to the town clerk’s office before the close of the office on the day before the election, or to the polling place before 7 p.m. on the day of the election, in order to be counted,” according the Secretary of State. Miller clarified “Ballots must be returned to us by 7 p.m. on voting day, August 11, 2020. Voters may bring ballots back to us on the actual election day.”

Town clerk numbers for Hardwick and Wolcott are: Hardwick: 802.472.5961 or by email at alberta.miller@hardwickvt.org and Wolcott: 802.888.2746 or by email at tc@wolcottvt.org

The full list of all town clerks with hours and contact information can be found in the “Meeting Memo” section of this paper.