Political Scientist Says Absentee Ballots Could Be Key To Dem Primary

11/24/09 5:50PM By Bob Kinzel
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AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach
(Host) A political analyst says absentee ballots could make the difference in next years' Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Middlebury College political scientist Eric Davis believes lawmakers will move the primary date to August.

VPR's Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Over the past few elections, the percentage of Vermont voters who have chosen to use the early ballot system has grown considerably. The ballots are available to any voter within 30 days of an election and last year roughly 20% of the votes in the General Election were tabulated using this system.

In 2010, the Vermont primary falls on Tuesday, September 14th - by law - that's the latest date a primary can be held in the state. But this date doesn't allow Vermont to comply with a new federal law that requires General Election ballots to be sent to overseas voters at least 45 days before the election.

The solution?  Move the date of the primary up by three weeks - from September 14th to August 24th.    Speaking on VPRs Vermont Edition, professor Davis noted that the Senate last session gave its approval to an earlier primary date. The House never acted on the bill but he thinks they will this winter:

(Davis)"I believe the House will pass that bill, the governor will not veto it and primary will be on the 24th of August. With over 1,000 Vermonters serving in Afghanistan next year, I just don't see any circumstances in which the Justice Department would give the state a waiver from the 45-day requirement. As a percentage of the electorate, Vermont may have the largest percentage of its voters serving in the military in 2010 overseas of any state."

(Kinzel) Davis says some schools in Vermont will open after August 24th -   a situation that he thinks will lead to an increased use of the early ballot system in the primary:

(Davis) "So some families may not be back yet from vacation. What that means is that an important part of the strategy for all five Democratic candidates is going to have to be an absentee ballot operation so that people who are not going to be home on August 24th can still cast their votes."

(Kinzel) And Davis thinks the candidate who can organize a strong early voting campaign, will have a huge advantage over the others:

(Davis) "In a low turnout election where 20,000 to 25,000 votes may be enough to win, all the candidates are going to need to devote a fair amount of their organizational resources to identifying core supporters early. And then to the greatest extent possible getting those people to vote before August 24th rather than on Primary Day itself."

(Kinzel) The five Democratic candidates are state senators Doug Racine, Susan Bartlett and Peter Shumlin, former state senator Matt Dunne and Secretary of State Deb Markowitz.

For VPR News, I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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