By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog
With early voting under way and election day drawing near, Vermonters can rest assured every vote counts.
Fraudulent votes, legitimate votes, every vote.
In Vermont, even fraudulent votes count. The situation arises in big elections, such as the 2012 presidential election, where scores of new voters show up at the polls and vote although their names aren’t on the statewide checklist.
In a recent interview with Vermont Watchdog, Scott Schrader, assistant chief administrative officer in the Clerk/Treasurer’s Office in Burlington, explained how his office handles the hundreds of uncertified voters who cast ballots in big elections.
“(If we) don’t have any record of them being on the statewide checklist, and if the voter insists that they registered to vote through the DMV or other avenue, we have them fill out an attestation form. Then they would be added to the checklist,” Schrader said.
Schrader said the individuals are given a ballot on the spot and are permitted to vote.
What happens next is critically important to democracy.
According to Schrader, poll workers at Burlington’s seven wards send the attestation forms to the Clerk/Treasurer’s Office, where Schrader, along with his clerks, check if uncertified voters are, in fact, registered with the state.
“We compare that (attestation form) to whatever we receive from the DMV or Secretary of State’s Office for the next couple weeks to ensure that the registration was in fact ‘in the mail.’”
If Schrader and his clerks receive a valid application from DMV or elsewhere, the individual is entered into the statewide checklist as a valid registered voter. If a valid application never arrives, the individual isn’t entered into the system.
Either way, the vote counts.
When asked if the Clerk/Treasurer’s Office counts the votes of walk-in voters whose attestation forms can’t be verified, Schrader replied, “That is correct.”
By most definitions, counting the votes of unregistered voters constitutes voter fraud.
When Watchdog.org requested that the Burlington Clerk/Treasurer’s Office provide a number count of voter affirmation forms submitted in recent elections, Schrader said voter affirmation forms for the 2012 presidential election had been discarded. Moreover, affirmation forms from Town Meeting Day were misplaced with a clerk who no longer works for the office.
Although Schrader estimated in a prior interview with Watchdog that 5 percent or fewer attestation forms turn out to be fraudulent, Kathy Dunn, who also works in the Clerk/Treasurer’s Office, told the Board for Registration of Voters in an Aug. 5 meeting that the number could be as high as 25 percent.
Burlington isn’t the only city that counts the votes of uncertified voters.
Crystal Chase, deputy city clerk for Montpelier, said her office follows a procedure similar to the one described by Schrader.
“We have them fill out the affirmation form, which is just stating that they did truly believe they were registered to vote. Then we get them added on to the checklist and they’re able to vote,” Chase said.
Unlike Burlington, however, Montpelier doesn’t verify attestation forms by checking with the DMV or organizers of voter registration drives.
“If they sign that affirmation form, that is as good as a registration form,” Chase said.
When asked if a vote would still count even if the information on the form was falsified, she replied, “Their vote does count, yes. It gets sent through just like every other. …They’re signing their affirmation and you’re taking their word for it. There’s no checking on it afterwards.”
In Montpelier, not only would the vote count, but the person would also continue to be listed on the statewide checklist.
“If we never got a card from DMV or never received their form in the mail they would still continue to be registered. It would never be rejected.”
Chase said her office wasn’t concerned about fraud because the voters “are swearing that the information they have provided is true.” Schrader expressed similar confidence, noting that falsifying information on affirmation forms constitutes perjury.
However, when Schrader was asked if he knew of any cases where individuals were prosecuted for falsifying information, he replied, “I have no idea.”
Other leaders in Vermont say the state should welcome as many voters as possible.
“I’m not concerned at all about voter fraud. I think what we need is more people voting, and not worrying about people who do vote,” Rachel Siegel, a city councilor from Burlington’s Ward 3, told Vermont Watchdog.
Siegel said the city should even welcome voting by illegal aliens.
“We want to put a question on the ballot in November that asks voters in Burlington if they are supportive of allowing noncitizen residents the right to vote in local elections,” she said.
While such views might seem radical, Siegal said Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger supported the idea “in theory,” but added “he thinks we’re moving too fast.”
Siegel claims it’s unfair that possibly 2,500 illegals in Burlington pay taxes and send their kids to public schools but can’t vote.
“It’s taxation without representation; it’s like why we had a Revolutionary War. …If we want to move toward more civic engagement, we should be expanding voter eligibility rights,” she said.
However, other Vermonters are deeply concerned about election integrity in Vermont.
Citizen poll watchers Wendy and Jim Robert caused a stir following the Aug. 26 primary after telling press about questionable activities at Burlington’s Ward 7 voter precinct, which included closed-door vote counting, mishandling of absentee ballot counts, voting by uncertified voters and unbalanced party representation at polls.
At a time of year when people would rather keep an eye on Vermont’s fall foliage than on elections, the Roberts say they will be watching the election closely. The Burlington residents told Vermont Watchdog they will be working the polls for the Nov. 4 General Election.
Contact Bruce Parker at [email protected]