Give town clerks a break

We've all experienced this to some degree at work: The boss asks you to take on some minor duty, some trifling thing that you'll barely notice having to do. You agree, knowing that it has to be done and that it really isn't asking all that much. A little while later the boss is back with another minor addition to your to-do list. Again you agree. And again, and again. Before long a bunch of little things has added up to one big thing and now you're wondering how it will all get done.

This is what town clerks in Vermont have been dealing with for some time now regarding their election day duties.

This Legislative session, town clerks tried and failed to have a "gap day" included in an election reform bill. It would have allowed town clerk's offices to not process voter registrations or take absentee ballots on the Monday ahead of an election, essentially giving them a day to set up polls and complete a great deal of election-related paperwork.

VT Digger reports that some, like secretary of State Jim Condos, opposed the rule saying it would result in people not voting. According to Condos, this past November 7,300 people in Vermont registered to vote on the Monday prior to the polls opening. Town clerks dispute that number, though, saying it included numbers from over the weekend.

That number doesn't sound like a lot, but with the way elections have been going we're seeing that it doesn't take a whole lot to tip them in one direction or another. Remember in 2014 when Governor Peter Shumlin only beat Scott Milne by 2,088 votes? How about in 2010 when 3,554 was all that separated Shumlin from challenger Brian Dubie?

While the last gubernatorial election wasn't exactly a nail-biter, it would be wise to assume there'll be others that cut things pretty close. Not just for the governor's office, either, but for House and Senate seats.

Votes count in a small state like Vermont. It's crucial that everyone eligible to vote who wishes to do so have that opportunity. The whole process around registration can be mysterious and off-putting for those who don't deal with it regularly.

It's tempting to say that if clerks need extra help around elections that they include that in their budgets, but there's one thing here that takes some of the starch out of the hand-wringing: You can still register to vote on the same day as the election.

"We're frustrated," Karen Richard, Colchester town clerk, told VT Digger. Richard is chairwoman of the Legislative Committee for the Vermont Municipal Clerks' and Treasurers' Association. She told the online media outlet that clerks have been feeling overwhelmed by all the added duties the Legislature is piling on.

It takes a great deal of work to run an election properly. Given the stakes and level of scrutiny involved, we can well imagine that election day is both tiring and stressful for our town clerks. The integrity of our elections is truly important, but preserving that integrity means not overburdening those tasked with making them happen in the first place.


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