By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog
Counting votes behind closed doors, letting uncertified voters vote, stacking wards with majority party poll workers — questionable activities at Burlington, Vt., polling places reveal a need for greater scrutiny of elections, two citizen poll watchers say.
On Aug. 26, Wendy and Jim Robert spent the day at Burlington’s Ward 7 voter precinct to get a closer look at how elections work in the Queen City.
As voting rolled on, the Burlington residents became disturbed by what they saw — and in one case, what they weren’t allowed to see.
“Jim was told he had to leave at 7 p.m. and that no one could stay that was not an official poll worker. Everyone who was not a poll worker was escorted out of the building and the doors were then closed,” Wendy Robert told Vermont Watchdog.
When voting hours ended, Jim Robert asked to watch the counting of write-in and absentee ballots. But poll workers shuffled everyone out of the building, locked the doors and began counting ballots.
What happened behind closed doors is anyone’s guess.
The Roberts reported seeing other confusing poll activities. In numerous instances, people whose names were not on the voter rolls were allowed to sign a form and vote — on the spot, and without any evidence of having registered. Their names were then hand-written onto the checklist.
“People who should potentially not be allowed to vote, who were not on the voter rolls, were being allowed to vote. … Poll workers were saying, ‘It’s fine, it’s OK,’” Wendy Robert said.
Throughout the day, the Roberts observed propaganda in voting areas, improper counting of absentee ballots, unbalanced party representation and excessive socializing by election officials.
Linda Chagnon, a member of the Board for Registration of Voters in Burlington, said counting votes behind closed doors is “appalling.”
“In the election law, it says persons who are not election officials may remain within the polling place but outside the guardrail. That’s always been the case,” she said.
Chagnon, who helps certify and maintain Burlington’s voter checklist, said Vermonters who see questionable election activities should file a complaint with the Secretary of State’s Office.
In a June interview with Vermont Watchdog, Chagnon reported seeing rampant voting by uncertified voters in Burlington.
According to Chagnon, voting by uncertified voters is potentially illegal. Moreover, she said newly registered voters receive a pink certification form from town clerks and DMV workers, which they must bring to the polling place.
The form reads as follows: “Bring your pink copy to the polls when you go to vote. This is your proof you have submitted an application to the checklist before the deadline for registration.”
Chagnon said bypassing this process is a violation of voter registration rules. She added that letting uncertified individuals vote in a present election is potentially illegal and constitutes de-facto same-day registration.
“The voter checklist is closed seven days prior to the election. That means no new people can be added to the checklist,” she said.
But Scott Schrader, assistant chief administrative officer at the Office of City Clerk/Treasurer, said such voting is legal.
“In the state of Vermont there is a presumption of validity. If someone is willing to swear and give an attestation that they have in fact registered, and we just don’t have the application yet, they are allowed to vote.”
“They swear under penalty of law that they in fact have registered prior to the deadline for registration. If they’re willing to swear under penalty of perjury, then we allow them to vote.”
Schrader said election workers capture the forms and send them to Clerk/Treasurer’s Office, where a clerk examines the validity of the claims.
Although Schrader did not know how many signed affirmation forms his office typically receives from the city’s seven wards on election day, he claimed the forms almost always check out.
“I’d say 95 percent to 98 percent of the time we receive the (voter’s) application — most likely from the BMV — within two weeks of the time the election was held.”
But minutes from an Aug. 5 meeting of the Board for Registration of Voters suggest the signed voter attestation forms may be fraudulent more frequently.
In the meeting, Kathy Dunn, who works in the Clerk/Treasurer’s Office, said 75 percent of the attestation forms turn out to be valid. What happens with the other 25 percent, and how many uncertified voters are voting at polling places, remains unclear.
Schrader did not provide a count of how many voter affirmation forms the Clerk/Treasurer’s Office has received during recent elections.
As for Wendy Robert, she bristles at the oft-repeated line that Vermont’s elections are based on the honor system.
“I have no problem losing a fair fight. I have great issue with losing one where the rules are muddy and only one side knows how to play.”