Vermonters ‘cured’ majority of defective ballots in primary voting, resulting in low rejection rate

Election workers sort through mail-in and absentee ballots at the polling place at Montpelier City Hall in 2020. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Thanks to a comprehensive vote-by-mail law passed by Vermont’s Legislature last year, the majority of defective mail-in ballots cast in this month’s primary were able to be fixed, or “cured,” in time to be counted, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

More than 132,000 ballots were cast in the Aug. 9 primary, which saw the state’s second-highest primary turnout in history. Of those, more than 51,000 were early, absentee or mail-in ballots.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, clerks received 809 defective early ballots this year, or 0.​​6% of all ballots cast. Ballots are often deemed defective because of a voter’s mistake in filling it out. Examples include simple technical errors like using the wrong type of writing utensil or forgetting to sign the envelope.

Of those 809 defective ballots, voters were able to cure 492, leaving 317 defective (and unable to be counted) — making up only 0.25% of overall ballots cast in the primary.

In a written statement provided to VTDigger, Secretary of State Jim Condos celebrated the election’s low defective ballot rate, calling it “proof that when you work to remove barriers to the voting process, more people are able to successfully exercise their civic right to vote.”

By comparison, in the 2020 primary, Condos said approximately 3.5% of ballots were deemed defective. There was no process for voters to cure those defective ballots at the time.

“Every vote counts. This is why we have worked so hard to make sure every vote is counted,” Condos said. “The combination of better instructions, voter familiarity, and ballot curing has worked. … I want to thank the Legislature for working with us to create a ballot cure process that works.”

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group has strongly advocated in Montpelier for expanding voter accessibility in Vermont, and pushed for a ballot curing measure in last year’s bill. 

Reached by phone on Friday, VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns was audibly excited when he was told the low rejection rate from last week’s primary, saying it was “exactly what we were hoping for when we were pressing for this in the Legislature.”

The state “is demonstrating that it's entirely possible to remove unnecessary barriers to voting and to do much more, really, than most states do to engage citizens in the process of participating in their democracy,” he said.

“We have made a number of improvements in the last decade in Vermont that I believe have made our state the most voter friendly state in the country,” Burns said. “And I think this ballot curing measure is just one more example of how Vermont has chosen, as a matter of public policy, to invite more people to participate in the process.”

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Sarah Mearhoff

About Sarah

Sarah Mearhoff is one of VTDigger's political reporters, covering the Vermont statehouse, executive branch and congressional delegation. Prior to joining Digger, she covered Minnesota and South Dakota state politics for Forum Communications' newspapers across the Upper Midwest for three years. She has also covered politics in Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, she is a proud alumna of the Pennsylvania State University where she studied journalism.

Email: [email protected]

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