MONTPELIER — When Vermonters head to the ballot boxes later this summer and fall, they can have more faith than most in the integrity of the results.
That’s according to a nonprofit elections watchdog that has placed Vermont atop its latest state-by-state ranking of voting procedures.
The 318-page report, produced by Rutgers Law School and the political watchdog Common Cause, named Vermont one of only six states to score “good” on its overall ranking.
“Vermont has been careful about its voting processes for some time and has taken care in ensuring that ballots are well cared for,” said Wally Roberts, executive director of Common Cause Vermont.
The report doesn’t focus solely on whether balloting mistakes will be made; they will, the report assures. Rather it examines the extent to which auditing and oversight will make sure those errors don’t tip the outcome of an election.
The report’s authors say they aim to answer “one essential question.”
“In the event of voting systems failures, how prepared is each state to ensure that every voter can vote and that every vote cast is counted?” the authors write.
Vermont, they say, is particularly well situated to detect and remedy voting errors. The study analyzes a range of voting protocols but places a particular premium on the keeping of paper ballots, an area in which it says Vermont excels.
“It is vitally important to have a paper record because if there is a dispute, whether it’s about whether someone is properly registered to vote or a dispute about the outcome of an election, it’s important to be able to verify the legitimacy of each vote cast,” Roberts said.
Secretary of State Jim Condos said he recalls the drafting of voting laws when he served in the Statehouse in the mid-2000s, as lawmakers pondered the proliferation of voting machines in Vermont.
“At that time we decided to give the secretary of state’s office the authority to choose which machines we would use,” Condos recalled. “But one caveat we had was we had to have a paper trail, that no matter what happens, there always be a paper trail to ensure the integrity of an election.”
Condos said 108 towns representing more than three-quarters of the electorate now employ optical scanning voting machines, but that all still require voters to fill out a paper ballot.
Vermont suffered its weakest score in the “post-elections audits” category, namely because state elections statutes don’t have any mandates ensuring those audits. Condos said that under a policy instituted by his predecessor, Deb Markowitz, Vermont audits a small percentage of ballots cast after every general election.
He said he’ll continue that policy and that he will encourage the Legislature to make such audits mandatory.
Vermont also won points in the report for not allowing voting via the Internet, even for military personnel stationed overseas. The report credited Markowitz for “distancing herself” from attempts to allow Internet voting.
Condos said he, too, opposes Internet voting and that the risks still outweigh the benefits.
“Folks across the country now are looking at Internet and touchscreen, but some of the experts and vendors I’ve talked to say there are security concerns,” Condos said. “I think the safest thing we can do is continue having people fill out a paper ballot and then putting that through the machine, and when it comes to something as important as elections, the safest route is probably the best one.”
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