Early voting is now open in Vermont. It means that for the next six weeks, Vermonters will be able to cast their ballots in the state’s primary election.
To do that, a registered voter simply needs to request a ballot from their town clerk either in person, by phone or by mail. It's estimated that as many as 20 percent of all voters will use the option this year.
Secretary of State Jim Condos is a big supporter of the early voting system. “Early voting is a great opportunity for all Vermonters to make sure that they have their chance to vote, their opportunity to vote,” said Condos. “It just makes it a lot easier for everybody and it helps turnout.”
Two states, Washington and Oregon, allow voting by mail. Condos says it’s something that merits more study in Vermont.
“I would suspect that at some point in time we’ll be looking at 'vote by mail' and see whether it’s something that the state wants to do,” Condos said.
The early voting system has also had an impact on how political campaigns allocate their financial resources. Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis says many campaigns actively seek the support of early voters.
“In a competitive race getting voters to the polls early is something that all candidates would want to do,” said Davis. “Because the sooner you can identify and lock up your core supporters that leaves you the final weeks of the campaign to concentrate on voters who have not yet made up their minds.”
Davis says there is a downside to early voting. Once a person has voted, they can’t go back and change their mind in the event that there’s a dramatic development in a specific race.
“If voters have cast their ballots before all the information is available to them they lose the opportunity to have news developments in the last, say two or three weeks of the campaign, affect their voting choice,” said Davis.
There are several contested statewide primary elections this year. Three people are seeking the Republican nomination for governor: Steve Berry, Scott Milne and Emily Peyton.
There are also three candidates seeking the GOP U.S. House nomination: Mark Donka, Donald Nolte and Donald Russell.
On the Democratic side, incumbent Gov. Peter Shumlin is being challenged by H. Brooke Paige. Paige is also on the ballot hoping to unseat incumbent Attorney General Bill Sorrell.