Change In Primary Date A Top Priority For House Speaker

12/08/09 5:50PM By Bob Kinzel

AP File Photo/Toby Talbot
(Host) There's a good chance that the date of Vermont's 2010 primary election is going to be moved up by several weeks so that the state will be in compliance with new federal regulations for overseas ballots.

House Speaker Shap Smith says approving the change early in the 2010 session is a top priority.

VPR's Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Usually Vermont's primary election is held on the second Tuesday in September. This year, the date falls as late as it possibly can on the calendar - it's Tuesday September 14th.

But there's a problem with this date - new federal regulations require all general election ballots for overseas voters to be mailed out at least 45 days before Election Day but the September 14th date doesn't give state officials enough time to comply with the federal law.

Last session, the Senate passed a bill moving the primary date up by three weeks to Tuesday August 24th but the House never acted on it.

House Speaker Shap Smith now says he wants the House to consider the legislation early in the 2010 session: 

(Smith) "We believe that that's an appropriate thing to do particularly with the scheduled deployment of troops from Vermont and we want to make sure that they have enough time to vote so we're going to move that bill."

(Kinzel) Governor Jim Douglas opposes the bill.  He says the Democrats are supporting the legislation to give their gubernatorial candidate more time to recover after a spirited 5 way primary race for governor.   Smith says that's not the case:

(Smith) "I don't think it's really going to have much impact on the General Election. I think it really is about making sure that people who are overseas get the chance to vote, and I would expect that the Governor would want that to happen."

(Kinzel) In the end, Middlebury College political science professor emeritus Eric Davis thinks Douglas will support the bill because so many Vermonters could be affected by it:

(Davis) "With over 1000 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 many schools still won't be in session by August 24th and he says that means the Democratic candidate who can best organize an absentee ballot effort for the primary will have a big advantage:

(Davis) "What that means is an important part of the campaign strategy for all 5 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) Davis predicts that roughly 60,000 people will turn out to vote in the 2010 primary. He says that means the winning candidate could be elected with less than 20,000 votes - a situation that Davis says increases the importance of absentee ballots in the outcome of the election.

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

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