In Vermont we have two very clearly defined dates for voting: Election Day, the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November, and Town Meeting Day, which is the first Tuesday in March. To hold an election as important as the one that will decide all of our state elected leaders for the foreseeable future on a day other than Town Meeting or in November just doesn’t make sense. And this year, Vermont’s primary election will be held on August 9th – the very dog days of summer – which to me seems downright indefensible.
We’re told the primary was moved from the end of August to the second week of August ostensibly to comply with Federal Law governing how overseas ballots are sent. But I’m not convinced that the inefficiency of the global post requires an early-August primary. Rather I suspect politics instead of sound policy inspired this ill-advised change in timing.
In a perfect system, all primaries would track the Presidential primary and be held as part of Town Meeting day. But many current elected officials worry this would interfere with their policy-making duties during the spring months. On the other hand, while not unanimous, as almost nothing in politics ever is, quite a few Vermont residents from the major parties have told me they believe that an August 9th primary hurts turnout and participation.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I’m involved in several Democratic primaries, but I still see this as a multi-partisan issue. And I think we’re clever enough to design a system where present office-holders can multitask without losing their edge - whether in Montpelier or politicking at home and around the state.
In a less then perfect but still defensible system, the primary elections would occur at least before Memorial Day, the first psychological bookend of summer – because except for those afflicted with the political bug, most folks would really rather not cloud their summer days with thoughts of politics - the notable exception being the annual appearance of pols in Fourth of July parades.
If voting is supposed to reflect the true will of the people, we need a primary election set on a date that maximizes the number of participants. Early voting may be a step in the right direction, but if the timing of an election sets the overall tone for the event – I’m afraid that an August 9th primary is almost certain to guarantee a disappointing turnout.