Recent Vermont Court Decision Shows Importance of Good Election Administration

RNLA member and 2016 Vermont Republican Attorney General candidate Deborah Bucknam describes the importance of good election administration practices and how poor election administration and poor advice from state election officials disenfranchise voters:

Secretary [of State Jim] Condos’ directives concerning voter eligibility allow non-residents to vote in Vermont elections, thereby suppressing Vermont residents’ voting power. . . . Dilution of the weight of a citizen’s vote . . . can occur when those not eligible to vote are allowed to vote, thereby diluting the weight of eligible voters’ franchise. 

Recent decisions by Essex County Superior Court illustrate this dilution starkly: As a result of a complaint filed by Victory town resident Tracey Martel, Judge Thomas J. Devine ordered seven voters removed from the Town of Victory voter checklist, reversing the Victory Board of Civil Authority’s decisions that those individuals were eligible to vote. Four other nonresident voters were removed from the checklist as a result of Ms. Martel’s complaint, totaling an astonishing 13% of voters removed from the town voter checklist. The reason for their removal: Not one of them was a resident of the Town of Victory. 

Those non-residents’ votes were the deciding factor in the four-time defeat of the local town budget in 2017. How do we know this? Because some of the non-residents voiced their opposition to the town budget, and, more tellingly, a town official allied with the nonresidents, in calculating the results of the last budget vote, actually wrote on the checklist how people voted—and all the non-residents voted against the budget. . . . Town residents’ votes have been diluted—and therefore suppressed—by the voting power of non-residents.

She also describes how, contrary to the direct and website advice of the Democratic Secretary of State, recent court decisions have established objective evidentiary standards for proving residency in Vermont:

That is not what the law provides. Judge Devine stated in his decisions: “…expressed intent must be viewed in light of the other objective evidence”. Thus, the Secretary of State is incorrect when he states that the law “creates a subjective standard.” . . . The court’s decisions directly impact another erroneous directive of the Secretary of State. The Secretary’s website states that any college student from out of state may vote in Vermont “as long as the voter considers Vermont to be his or her primary residence.” Again, the Secretary of State’s interpretation of the law is erroneous, because what the voter “considers” is insufficient. Judge Devine ruled that domicile requires residency “coupled with an intention of remaining there indefinitely,” and, as indicated above, that “intent” also requires objective evidence to support the stated intent.

While election administration procedures and voter eligibility requirements may seem arcane, they are fundamentally important.  Ms. Bucknam's description of recent events in Victory, Vermont, make this abundantly clear, as non-resident voters changed the outcome of local decision making, which directly affects the actual residents of Victory on a daily basis.  And while the examples are most obvious on the local level, the detrimental effect of poor election administration can be multiplied in larger state and national races.