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Vt. election officials: Fraud highly unlikely despite voter role irregularities

Published: Oct. 16, 2020 at 4:22 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A record number of early voting ballots have been returned already with less than three weeks until the election. But some Vermonters are receiving more ballots to their homes than expected, causing some skepticism about the process.

“I think this is a trainwreck,” said Cynthia Pepin of Grand Isle. She voted by absentee ballot through the mail during this year’s primary with no problem. But after she and her husband received their ballots for November’s election they just kept coming. “Two ballots arrived, and then one more ballot arrived, then two more ballots arrived, until we had six ballots and only two should have come here.”

They were addressed to family members who used to live at her home but have since moved out -- some at least four years ago. She’s worried other people were also sent multiple ballots and that they could vote more than once. “I don’t know how you can actually call Vermont’s ballots legit at this point if I can cast six, when there’s only two people in this home,” Pepin said.

While she says she’s not going to vote more than once, there would be serious consequences if she did and got caught.

Secretary of State Jim Condos says even though town and city clerks aren’t examining signatures on ballots, he says voter fraud is rare and even if someone did vote more than once, it’s unlikely to affect the outcome of any races. “And to do all that, just to change one vote and face jail time and significant fines, we just don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said.

But fraud isn’t the only concern. Some voters wonder about the reliability of the system. Ray Tomlinson got two ballots sent to his home -- both in his name. “I want to have one of them count,” he said.

Both of these ballot blunders stem from issues with their town’s voter checklist. Condos says in Vermont and state’s across the country, those lists aren’t perfect. “We all have some errors in them,” he said.

Some include people who have died. Others, like Tomlinson, may be on the checklist multiple times. Condos says one reason is adding a middle initial to your name at the DMV that wasn’t there previously. The state’s system recognizes that as a different person and results in duplicate ballots being sent. “I wouldn’t say it’s expected, but it’s not unexpected,” Condos said.

But to have someone removed from the voter checklist isn’t easy. Federal law has certain requirements that must be followed before a name is struck. People can become challenged voters too if they miss multiple elections or if clerks see multiple names at the same address. Follow-ups will then happen to confirm any missing or new info.

Many of these ballot and checklist issues are only being revealed because Condos lawmakers approved sending ballots to all registered voters rather than requesting them. Despite the problems, Condos is standing behind the move because it helps ensure every voter has the chance to vote. “The true voter fraud in this country is really the denial of any opportunity for an eligible American to cast a ballot,” he said.

Condos says if you have ballots that don’t belong to you, or you have an extra in your name -- call your town clerk who will either have you destroy the ballots or bring them in.

Copyright 2020 WCAX. All rights reserved.

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