Op/Ed

Eric Davis: Filing deadline nears for primary

Vermont’s presidential primary will be held on Tuesday, March 3, 2020, which is also Town Meeting Day. Voters in 13 other states will also be voting that day in “Super Tuesday” primaries.
The deadline for candidates to file petitions to get on the Vermont primary ballot is Monday, Dec. 16. Petitions must be accompanied by the signatures of 1,000 registered voters and by a filing fee of $2,000. These are more stringent requirements than those for candidates for statewide and congressional offices, whose petitions need only 500 signatures and do not require a filing fee.
Vermont state law also requires that candidates for statewide office submit a copy of their most recent federal income tax return to the Secretary of State’s Office along with their petitions. This requirement does not apply to candidates in the presidential primary.
Interestingly, the California Supreme Court ruled last month, in a case brought by President Trump’s campaign, that a requirement that presidential candidates had to disclose their tax returns in order to appear on that state’s presidential primary ballot violated the state constitution. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is now considering challenges brought by Trump to court orders that his accountants turn over his tax returns in response to subpoenas from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. House Committee on Oversight.
Vermont state law provides that presidential primary ballots must be available at town clerks offices for early and absentee voters at least 45 days in advance of the election. According to the Secretary of State’s website, 2020 presidential primary ballots will be available as of Friday, Jan. 17.
This is a longer absentee and early voting period than applies to the municipal Australian ballots that voters will also be casting on Town Meeting Day. Those ballots must be available to voters at least 20 days in advance of the election. This is because the filing deadline for local offices and other matters to be voted on the Australian ballot is not until late January, after the presidential primary ballots will be available in town clerks’ offices.
Two other aspects of the Vermont presidential primary are also worth noting. First, state law permits 17-year-olds who will turn 18 on or before the date of the general election (Nov. 3 in 2020) to vote in the presidential primary. Vermont is one of 17 states that allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections.
However, these voters are not allowed to vote in the municipal Australian ballots that will also take place on Town Meeting Day. This means that town clerks must maintain two checklists for the March 3 elections: one, including the 17-year-olds, for the presidential primary, and a second, limited to those 18 and older, for the municipal Australian ballots.
The second unique aspect of the presidential primary is that it is the only election in Vermont where voters must request the ballot of either the Democratic or the Republican party. In the August primary for statewide and legislative offices, voters are provided with the ballots for all major parties and decide in the voting booth which ballot to mark and be counted.
Vermont is one of the minority of states that does not require voters to affiliate with a political party, or to state they are independent, when they register to vote. In most states, participation in Democratic and Republican presidential primaries is limited to those voters who have either registered with the party, or, in some states, also to independents who request the party’s ballot on primary day.
In states such as Vermont with no party registration, voters must request the ballot of one party, in order to comply with national party rules that participation in the primary be limited to voters who affiliate with the party, even if that affiliation is only temporary, on primary day itself.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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