MONTPELIER, Vt. — Results from the Nov. 6 election in Vermont might not be official until after Thanksgiving if the U.S. Department of Justice is successful in a lawsuit it has brought against the state, the state’s top election official said Tuesday.
The Justice Department announced last week that it was suing Vermont for failing to send out all the ballots requested by military and overseas voters ahead of a Sept. 22 deadline. Federal law requires such ballots to be sent by mail or email 45 days before the general election, which is Nov. 6.
Secretary of State Jim Condos said Vermont was delayed in getting ballots out because of a recount in the Progressive Party primary for governor. The primary was Aug. 28, and results from that vote were not made final until Sept. 18.
The ballots are printed by Condos’ office and are sent to town and city clerks, who in turn send them to the voters who requested them. The recount, however, left only a four-day window between when Condos’ office could print them and the clerks’ deadline for mailing them out.
“Some clerks in the small towns aren’t even open on Thursdays and Fridays,” Condos said, meaning that in some cases, ballots weren’t sent out until the following week. Of the 894 requests for absentee ballots received from military and overseas voters, Condos said 196 ballots were sent after the Sept. 22 deadline.
That violated the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, the federal law requiring that absentee ballots be sent to those requesting them no later than 45 days before the election. The month-and-a-half window is designed to give voters enough time to fill out their ballots and return them by mail.
The Justice Department is asking that Vermont’s military and overseas voters be given an extra 10 days — until Nov. 16 — to return their ballots to town and city clerks.
“Our armed forces, their families and overseas citizens deserve a meaningful opportunity to fully participate in our nation’s elections,” Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement accompanying the lawsuit.
Condos said the 10-day delay would violate state laws requiring that ballots cast after 7 p.m. on the day of the election not be counted and that his office certify election results a week after the vote. He said delaying the close of voting until Nov. 16 likely would push the certification process past Thanksgiving, which is Nov. 22.
Keith Aten, the assistant attorney general handling the case for the state, said he hoped to reach a settlement with the Justice Department “without the need for the court to intervene.”