Vermont Governor Phil Scott Agrees to Expand Voting Rights

Gov. Phil Scott signed a bill on Monday requiring that all registered voters receive mail-in ballots. His decision contrasted with Republican-led efforts to restrict voting rights in several states.

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Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont signed legislation on Monday that requires all registered voters in the state to receive mail-in ballots, an expansion of voting rights that counters a movement among Republicans in other states to restrict them.

Mr. Scott, a Republican, signed the bill nearly four weeks after the Vermont General Assembly approved the legislation, which also allows voters to fix, or “cure,” a ballot that was deemed defective if it was filled out or mailed incorrectly.

In a statement on Monday, Mr. Scott said he had signed the bill “because I believe making sure voting is easy and accessible, and increasing voter participation, is important.”

He added that he would push lawmakers to expand the provision beyond statewide general elections, “which already have the highest voter turnout.”

“For greater consistency and to expand access further,” he said, “I am asking the General Assembly to extend the provisions of this bill to primary elections, local elections and school budget votes when they return to session in January.”

Last year, during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, Vermont officials agreed to send out mail-in ballots to voters so they could cast their votes safely.

The measure was extremely popular. More than 75 percent of registered voters cast ballots early or by mail, according to the office of Jim Condos, Vermont’s secretary of state. Voter turnout was high, with more than 73 percent of the state’s 506,000 registered voters casting ballots in November, according to the state’s election results.

Among registered voters in Vermont, 68 percent wanted to keep the policy of giving every registered voter a mail-in ballot while 29 percent opposed it, according to a poll conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies, a survey group. Seventy-eight percent of residents also supported giving voters a chance to fix, or “cure,” ballots with small errors.

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Gov. Phil Scott’s decision to sign the Vermont bill bucked a trend of Republican leaders who have supported bills restricting voting rights.Credit…Wilson Ring/Associated Press

Vermont’s Senate approved the measure in March. The legislation passed in the General Assembly with bipartisan support, in a 119-to-30 vote, though some Republican lawmakers had resisted the push for mail-in ballots, arguing that they could allow for voter fraud.

Independent studies and government reviews have found that voter fraud is extremely rare in all forms, including mail-in voting.

“We should be proud of our brave state,” Mr. Condos, a Democrat, said in a statement last month. Though he did not name states where lawmakers have worked to restrict voting rights — Florida, Georgia and Texas among them — Mr. Condos contrasted those Republican-led efforts with the measure in Vermont, where the Republican governor had expressed support for a bipartisan bill.

“While others are working to make it harder to vote, in Vermont we are working to remove barriers to the ballot box for all eligible voters, while strengthening the security and integrity of the voting process,” Mr. Condos said.

Mr. Condos, who noted that mail-in ballots had been available to American voters since before the Civil War, said in his statement that ballots would be mailed only to active registered voters and would not be forwarded to people who had changed their addresses.

Ballots must include a signed affidavit from voters identifying themselves, and each envelope will contain voter data such as a unique identification number and a bar code, Mr. Condos said.

The law will give municipalities the option to send mail-in ballots for local races and allow voters to cast their ballots at drive-in polling places, said State Senator Cheryl Hooker, a Democrat, who was a sponsor of the Senate version of the bill.

Becca Balint, the president pro tempore of the State Senate, said in a statement that the approval of the bill “stands in stark contrast to legislatures across the country who continue voter suppression efforts, targeting practices like mail-in voting that have correlated with higher turnout among people of color.”

Ms. Balint, a Democrat, said Mr. Scott’s signature “represents bipartisan agreement that our democracy, and our state, are strengthened when we make elections more accessible to all.”

Both chambers of Vermont’s General Assembly are controlled by Democrats, and Mr. Scott has said he voted for President Biden in the 2020 presidential election. After casting his ballot in November, Mr. Scott told reporters that it was the first time in his life that he had voted for a Democrat. Mr. Biden won 66 percent of the vote in Vermont.

Mr. Scott’s decision to sign the bill bucked a trend of Republican leaders who have supported bills restricting voting rights. Kentucky, which has a Democratic governor but which former President Donald J. Trump won with 62 percent of the vote, is the only state with a Republican-controlled legislature that has significantly expanded voting rights.

“Amid a scourge of anti-voter bills being proposed and signed into law in the states, it’s encouraging to see Vermont moving in the opposite direction,” Josh Silver, chief executive of RepresentUs, a bipartisan voting rights advocacy group, said in a statement.

Mr. Trump’s refusal to admit that he lost and his monthslong campaign to delegitimize the results have gutted his supporters’ trust in the electoral system and led to baseless claims about the integrity of the election.

In their public comments, lawmakers in at least 33 states have cited low public confidence in the electoral system to justify pushing for bills that restrict voting, according to a tally by The New York Times.

States such as Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Iowa have already passed laws restricting the ability of voters to cast ballots. In Texas, Democrats stalled legislation that has been viewed by many voting rights groups as perhaps the harshest of all.

Christine Hauser contributed reporting.

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