Vermont May Not Count The Votes Until After Thanksgiving

by Kevin Joseph Ryan

With only 20 days to go before the election as of October 17, The State of Vermont and the Secretary of State, Jim Condos, have been sued by the Obama Department of Justice for failing to get overseas and other absentee military ballots out on time. This news came as of last Friday afternoon, as the Civil Rights Division filed in Federal Court over violations of UOCAVA, the Uniformed Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Rights Act. Now it appears as if the results of the November 6 elections may not be officially known under after Thanksgiving.

The UOCAVA Federal law requires that each state must “transmit” or send to each overseas or military voter, upon request, a correct absentee ballot 45 days preceding an election. This year, that date would have fallen on September 22. By that date, either 834 or 894 ballots had been requested, depending on whether one supports the data put forward by Condos’ office or by the DOJ. DOJ asserts the larger number in their suit, while Condos claims a number of requests became “stuck in spam filters” or suffered other similar electronic snafus. In either case, even by Condos’ admission, not all ballots had been sent out by the Federal deadline. At that time, Condos claimed that 788 had gone out on schedule and that delays were caused by a number of factors, including the Vermont ballot being delayed until two days before the deadline and late arriving requests from town and city clerks. He told TNR that all but 46 had been sent to local clerks by the following Monday.

While being respectful of the town and city clerks, both sides in this conflict have acknowledged that many clerks, the ones who actually distribute the ballots to the voters, are part-time in Vermont. The DOJ makes the claim that Condos was aware that when sending the prepared ballot to the local clerks, that many of those offices would not have been open during the window of time between the preparation of the ballot on Wednesday, September 20 and the deadline on Friday, September 22.

As a result, according to the DOJ, 191 ballots were sent by the clerks after deadline. In his defense, Condos told TNR that he has no control over the clerks and he said, “We called over 160 clerks to make sure” that the law had been followed. When asked why then the DOJ would sue a Secretary of State rather than the local clerk, Condos pointed out that the DOJ has asked Congress to clarify the law itself. The federal Military and Overseas Empowerment Act makes this assertion, “While the MOVE Act contains a number of mandates on the States,… States remain free to delegate those responsibilities to local officials. Compliance with MOVE’s mandates, however, ultimately remains a State responsibility, and States will continue to be the main entity against which the provisions of MOVE and UOCAVA will be enforced should enforcement by the Department of Justice become necessary.”

The DOJ and the Vermont Attorney General’s Office have been working on a settlement for this legal challenge in the form of a stipulated agreement, which would require an extended period during which votes would have to be accepted by the State of Vermont following the November 6 election day to account for the late ballots. Condos told TNR that Vermont law requires that no votes be accepted after the 7 PM poll closing time and any agreement may require an order from a judge to supersede state law. The additional 10 day waiting period would push back official vote tabulation by the state and following the 7 day period before certification, this would mean Vermont would not have an official vote tally until Friday, November 23. Yep, the day after Thanksgiving…presuming state official could be gathered to conduct official certification on that date.

Now, that would be a real turkey.