VT Democrats Are Conspiring with VPIRG to pull off a massive “Ballot Harvesting” operation

May 28, 2020

by Rob Roper

The three biggest advocates of an all-mail-in ballot election are Democrat Secretary of State Jim Condos, Democratic legislators, and Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG). The “election by mail” proposal they are pushing calls for mailing all active voters on the statewide checklist a “live” absentee ballot for the November 2020 election, regardless of the voter’s request.

Here’s the math. There are roughly 480,000 registered voters in Vermont, and in the 2016 presidential election year, which had a high turnout, just 67% of registered voters cast ballots (and many of those still on the checklist are invalid voters having died or moved away). This means that the Condos/VPIRG vote-by-mail proposal, if allowed to move forward, will lead to something like 160,000 unclaimed or unwanted ballots just floating around – for any unscrupulous actor(s) to collect, fill out, and mail in.

There are no meaningful safeguards or mechanisms in place to detect or track down, and therefore prosecute, anyone who illegally fills out an absentee ballot, or multiple ballots, in someone else’s name. As the St. Johnsbury Town Clerk Stacy Jewell admitted in a recent interview when asked if she had seen any cases of vote-by-mail during the previous election, “Not that we would know. Like I said, you’re not gonna know.”

So, who would take advantage of 160,000 “floater” ballots plus hundreds of thousands more confused Vermont voters suddenly receiving absentee ballots they didn’t request?

In January, VPIRG announced that they were forming a Political Action Committee, VPIRG Votes, described as the “political campaign arm” of the left-wing organization. According to VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns, “The PAC would go door to door in the fall to canvass for [“pro-climate”] candidates and encourage people to vote, said Burns (VTDigger 1/21/20). And maybe help those confused folks to fill out their ballots and collect the unclaimed ones in the process.

A partisan PAC, organized for going door to door “encouraging” people to vote for just “pro-climate” candidates, after that same group advocated heavily for an all-mail election, looks an awful lot like a planned, systematic “ballot harvesting” operation.

Ballot harvesting is the process by which campaign operatives go door to door collecting absentee ballots and remitting them to polling places. In some states this is illegal, such as North Carolina where a 2018 election in that state’s 9th congressional district was invalidated due to the practice. In other states, like California, the practice allowed. In all cases it is unethical.

During testimony before the Senate Government Operations Committee on May 26th, Sen. Brian Collamore (R-Rutland) asked regarding ballot harvesting in Vermont, “Is there anything to prevent an individual, could be a candidate or not, or a group or association, for offering to pick up completed ballots and bring them into their town clerk’s office or a polling place or to mail them?”

Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters answered, after a long, awkward pause, “The current law does, I believe, allow for that.” So, ballot harvesters, start your engines!

If third parties were simply going around providing a service of collecting and handing in legitimate absentee ballots like some kind of volunteer postal service, that might be okay. However, in North Carolina collectors pressured citizens into voting for their preferred candidates, stole ballots and filled them out themselves, and destroyed the ballots of those voting against their preferred candidates. This is a practice easily abused.

More so when the chief election official of the state is in league with the probable perpetrator of the activities, blithely assuring the public that “there is no fraud in Vermont,” nothing to see here.

We have a situation here in which the special interest group, VPIRG, with a $2 million a year plus budget, is lobbying the legislature to pass a bill that will allow them to aggressively ballot harvest – legally and potentially illegally — on behalf of the majority party in that legislature, which is all too eagerly clearing the path for them to do so, with the Chief Election Officer of the state, also of the majority party, putting his stamp of approval on the scheme. On a party line vote, the Senate Government Operations Committee just moved a bill that would strip Governor Scott of his ability to block vote by mail.

Vermont already has a very easy absentee ballot program – by voter request — in place and allows for 45 days of early voting. 30 to 40% of Vermont voters already take advantage of this system. There is no need to mail every active registered voter a live ballot, flooding the state with unclaimed, unwanted ballots. If we are going to see a heavier reliance on vote-by-mail, either under the present system or the Condos/VPIRG scheme, Republicans and honest citizens should at least demand that “ballot harvesting” be made clearly, unambiguously illegal before November.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Irene Stewart May 28, 2020 at 2:50 pm

Had no idea that VPIRG was involved with this issue. But if VPIRG is involved and pushing for harvesting ballots, I want nothing to do with it, nor should any Vermonter. VPIRG cannot be trusted to mail a ballot for anyone of us, and cannot be trusted to not change YOUR ballot. They are the worst organization in Vermont. Always have a gimmick up their sleeves. Now, since the interns won’t be going around this summer, guess they WANT YOUR BALLOT and they will do what they want with them, so they GET MONEY and influence. Call your legislator…tell them NO WAY!!!

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Gail Graham May 29, 2020 at 12:19 am

I agree 200% with all Rob has said, as well as Irene, but I have a question about Irene saying that the interns will not be going around. I assume because of the pandemic? If so, then how do they plan to “harvest” the ballots if they aren’t supposed to be out and about?
This becomes more upsetting every day. I will participate in any way possible in an attempt to counter this. I guess us Republicans need to REALLY talk about this while we are helping with campaigns. Sadly, I won’t be calling my Rep. because she is “one of them”.

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IRENE STEWART June 2, 2020 at 11:43 pm

Gail, the interns, usually college students, would be back in college and probably not available. The article I read did not indicate which VPIRG employees or volunteers would be doing this. Sorry.

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Sharon Toborg May 28, 2020 at 5:51 pm

Don’t think that “active” voter means someone who has voted recently. There are voters on the checklist who haven’t voted for 25 years or more who are listed as “active.”

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Sheila Walther May 30, 2020 at 2:36 pm

Your town must maintain their voter checklist. Under 17VSA@2150, the law allows for the BCA and Town Clerk to send out challenge letters and purge inactive voters from the checklist. The BCA should meet several times a year to review the checklist, or the BCA can authorize the Town Clerk to send challenge letters. The Town Clerk can purge the voter from the checklist if the voter has registered in another jurisdiction, by death cert. or public notice of death, DMV change of address notification (through VEMS), or by signed response from the voter. Why not consider running for your town’s BCA? Also, did you know that you can receive the statewide voter checklist on a monthly basis via email? The Vermont elections administrator is Lelonie Oatway; just contact her to receive the checklist. Her email is: lelonie.oatway@vermont.gov.

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Jim Fitzgerald May 31, 2020 at 5:03 pm

WOW you are in la, la land if you believe Town clerks purge check lists on a regular basis. People who died several years ago remain on nsome check lists, get real

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Carol D May 29, 2020 at 9:21 pm

If their ideas and candidates are so wonderful, why do they have to resort to improved means of voter fraud to get the vote? Out of state students should NOT be allowed to vote in Vermont at all. Most of them do not bother to get VT drivers’ licenses, even though they promise that they will when they register on voting day. And we all know which way students, vote, with few exceptions.

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Clancy May 29, 2020 at 9:30 pm

The only way the GOP can retain power is by disenfranchisement and gerrymandering. We’re in a global pandemic, so let’s stop pretending that there is widespread vote fraud. Mail-in-voting works.

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Rob May 29, 2020 at 9:37 pm

Clancy, you show me what processes and procedures are in place to ensure all the ballots being mailed out to people who didn’t request them (many who have moved away or died) can’t be collected, fraudulently filled out, and sent in by anyone who manages to get hold of them, and I’ll accept your claim. The truth is, election officials really have no clue who filled out an absentee ballot. But, as I say, show me how I’m wrong.

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Ron May 30, 2020 at 2:08 am

Clancy,
Are any of those statements connected to the conclusion?
* Republicans gerrymander.
* We are in a pandemic.
* Don’t pretend there is voter fraud.
Conclusion: mail-in voting works.

Please defend your conclusion. Rob outlined solid possibilities. You have done nothing but make a statement.

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Kay Trudell May 30, 2020 at 3:09 am

This scam is fraught with danger because it breaks the chain of custody which has always been used to secure the safety of ballots and guard against voter fraud. When one does a mass mailing of ballots to 400,000 people who have not requested them, there is NO WAY to safeguard the ballots. There is no way to verify that the person for whom the ballot was supposedly intended is actually the one who signed it and filled it out and sent it back. It is not the job of people who oppose this to prove to the liberals pushing this that there will be no voter fraud. It is up to the people who want such a massive change to prove that there will NOT be voter fraud before the law is changed. For such a massive change, when the citizens of Vermont have not risen en masse to demand such a drastic change, it is up to the supporters, not the people who want to continue to use the current system. There is no thought to this and no plan. It is just a corrupt attempt to grab power and rig elections.

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Mike May 30, 2020 at 12:35 pm

Wonder how the harvesters will be hired and will they be paid a hourly rate or fee/ballot. My guess is they would be paid per ballot. Then comes the fun. 500,000 ballots sent out and a Million ballots get cast. Condos is no dummy

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Maryann June 2, 2020 at 10:10 pm

Jim Condos and VPIRG I don’t care how much $ you have! You must think we are real pushovers. If someone from either one of these parties comes to my house I’ll throw him or her out on the street! Absentee ballots are the way to go if we need them by then

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IRENE STEWART June 2, 2020 at 11:59 pm

I do not trust anything VPIRG says or does. They are out for themselves and to enrich Paul Burns, the director and the organization. They have a 2 million dollar budget – what do they do with it, except bribe middle school and high school age kids to lobby for them for a carbon tax. USERS!!! And they have a very profitable arm, known as Sun Common, out peddling solar panels. But now they are acting like a fourth arm of the State of Vermont, just about living at the State House during the session. If there involved in anyway, expect a fraudulent election!!! Too many ballots out there, floating around, and VPIRG will take great advantage of them. Say NO to mandatory mail in ballots.

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