State Watch

Vermont’s Republican governor backs all-mail elections

Glenn Russell/VTDigger via Associated Press
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott delivers his State of the State address remotely from the Pavilion office building, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, in Montpelier, Vt.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) wants his state to become the latest to conduct all elections entirely by mail, a move he says would expand voter access and turnout at a time when many Republican-led states are debating restrictions on absentee ballots.

Scott signed legislation last year to automatically mail registered voters an absentee ballot in general elections. On Friday, he signed a measure extending access to town meetings, an annual tradition in some New England states, to account for the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to legislators, Scott urged them to expand automatic mail-in voting beyond general elections, to include local and primary elections.

“General elections already have the highest voter turnout. What we need is increased voter participation for elections like those on Town Meeting Day or school budget votes, which experience a fraction of the turnout of general elections,” Scott wrote.

Vermont already has among the highest voter turnout rates in the nation. Nearly three-quarters of the voting-eligible population returned ballots in 2020, higher than all but seven other states, according to data from the U.S. Elections Project. Three of those states with higher turnout — Colorado, Oregon and Washington — already conduct their elections entirely by mail. 

Scott’s call for expanded voting by mail stands in stark contrast to Republicans in other states, who have moved to scale back absentee voting. At least 57 bills that have been introduced in legislatures across the country this year would restrict voting by mail in some form, according to research from the Brennan Center for Justice, which favors expanded voting rights.

In Virginia, where Republicans reclaimed control of the General Assembly in November, legislators have introduced 20 measures aimed at restricting or curbing voting by mail. 

Scott may find a more willing ally in his own legislature: Democrats hold overwhelming majorities in both the state House and the state Senate.

In an email, Scott’s spokesman said the move to expand access only made logical sense. 

“If the goal is to expand voter accessibility and participation, it does not make sense to only focus on elections (generals) that have by far the highest voter turnout,” said Jason Maulucci, Scott’s press secretary.

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