Republican Governor of Vermont Supports Mail-In Elections

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Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) wants his state to become the last to hold all elections entirely by mail, a move he says would expand voter access and turnout at a time when many states Republican-led debate restrictions on mail-in votes.

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

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

“The general elections already have the highest turnout. What we need is increased voter turnout in elections like Town Meeting Day or school budget votes, which only see a fraction of the turnout in general elections,” Scott wrote.

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

Scott’s call for expanding mail-in voting contrasts sharply with Republicans in other states, who have moved to scale back mail-in voting. At least 57 bills that have been introduced in legislatures across the country this year would restrict mail-in voting in one form or another, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice, which favors expanding voting rights.

In Virginia, where Republicans regained control of the General Assembly in November, lawmakers introduced 20 measures aimed at restricting or curbing mail-in voting.

Scott might find a more willing ally in his own legislature: Democrats hold an overwhelming majority in both the State House and the state Senate.

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

“If the goal is to broaden voter accessibility and participation, it doesn’t make sense to focus only on (general) elections that have by far the highest turnout,” said Jason Maulucci, Scott’s publicist.

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