City to keep voting hours the same – for now

VERGENNES — The Vergennes Board of Civil Authority (BCA) on Jan. 31 decided not to expand the city’s voting hours for primary and general elections, as some residents and city council members have suggested. But an ongoing city council update of the Vergennes city charter could still expand the community’s voting hours.
Unlike the rest of the county’s towns, Vergennes voting hours begin at 9 a.m., not 7 a.m. They then run to the universal closing hour of 7 p.m.
Those hours are specified in the city’s charter, but technically only for Town Meeting Day. However, Vergennes officials have always scheduled the same 10-hour voting bloc for all city elections.
Despite some sentiment to add early hours that would allow residents to vote on the way to work, the BCA — which among other duties oversees and helps administer elections, and consists of members of the city council, Vergennes justices of the peace, and City Clerk Joan Devine — decided to leave the hours as is, at least for now.
In part, Devine said, BCA members said the change could wait while the council looks at the charter because it is now so easy to vote before an election day.
“A lot of the conversation included how easy it is to vote absentee these days,” she said.
Vermont has lifted restrictions against absentee voting, Devine said, making that a simple option for any voter who has a scheduling conflict on an election day or just doesn’t want to risk waiting in line. 
“The only way you could vote absentee was when you were out of town or you were ill. Nowadays you can vote absentee because it’s convenient,” she said.
A visit or phone call to city hall is all that it requires.
“They can call us and say please mail me an absentee ballot,” Devine said. “We’ll put it in the mail that day.”
Unregistered voters do have to show up in person.
“People can apply on the spot if they aren’t a registered voter,” Devine said. “A lot of people have come right in our office. They register right here. We hand them a ballot. They vote on it. They leave it here. They’ve done it all at once, and they’re done. Come right to city hall. We’ll help you out.”
Those busy during business hours can log onto their computers in the evening and ask for ballots.
“You can go to the ‘My Voter’ page at the secretary of state’s office, and you can request an absentee ballot, and you can track it. You can go in the next day and see if I mailed it,” Devine said. “Then when they mail it back they can go in and say, ‘Yup, they got it.’”
That website is at https://www.sec.state.vt.us/elections/voters/registration.aspx.
The city justices of the peace will also deliver ballots to those who are disabled or too ill to make it to city hall to request a ballot, or to go to the city fire station to vote on March 6; those interested should call city hall at 877-2841.
But for now those who would like to vote in person will have to wait until 9 a.m. The BCA could have changed the primary and general election hours to start at 7 a.m., although it could not overrule the charter on the March town meeting voting hours.
Devine said the BCA decided to wait out the city council’s charter update before tinkering with voting hours.
“The BCA still has the authority to change the primary and the general election hours, and our people would have to adjust,” Devine said, adding, “The decision was to leave the polling hours alone to avoid confusing the voters until such time there is a charter change.”
Devine lobbied the BCA to wait because if the council favors a charter change to 7 a.m., an updated charter could not have gained required approved from the Legislature before March voting. That would have meant two elections with 7 a.m. starts followed by a 9 a.m. start.
“I told them if you change them now you’ll have people going to the primary in August and then the general in November at 7 a.m., and then when you come to March, because you don’t know that we’re going get this through the Legislature in time for March of next year, then your hours are going to be 9 o’clock, and then you’re going to have people angry,” she said.
Regardless of the outcome of the election hour discussion, the charter is in need of housekeeping, city officials said. They cited such things as its citation of the voting age at 21, not 18, and its inclusion of out-of-date powers for grand jurors. Alderman Mark Koenig is working on a draft of an updated charter for council review.
Meanwhile, a description of the BCA and its decision and of voting in Vergennes is available at the front page of city’s website, vergennes.org.
And Devine said she and Assistant Clerk Melissa Wright are ready to help voters cast ballots on the Addison Northwest School District budget or on what are uncontested city races.
“We’re here 8 to 4:30,” Devine said. “You’re welcome to start voting.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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