Changes to Election Laws (H.429) - March 31, 2023

The Senate Government Operations Committee resumed testimony on H.429 on Friday with Betty Keller (Member, Vermont League of Women Voters) who promoted Ranked Choice Voting as a solution to the “sore loser” issue this bill was trying to address. The Vermont League of Women Voters (LWV-VT) opposes the first two sections of the bill, which deal with the “sore loser” candidates. The legislature should not be limiting choices in the general election, she argued.

LWV-VT also believes that deadlines for independent candidates should not be tied to primary election dates, again to maximize choices for voters “as articulated by the Vermont Constitution.”

They are also concerned about “notwithstanding” language in the campaign contribution provisions, as this creates a new category of donors and they see “no need for a new and privileged class of donors of any type.” They proposed delaying this provision until it can be studied further.

Keller had a number of comments about privacy and security of e-voting. They support its use for military and oversees persons as a more viable option than mail, but they believe voters should be warned that this method is less private. Of course, there are security concerns around manipulation and hacking that could happen by having internet-connected voting systems (our current voting machines have no network connections.)

Chairwoman Hardy noted that there will be more testimony on these elements of the bill and moved on to the next witness, Josh Wronski (Executive Director, Vermont Progressive Party). Wronksi noted in his presentation that not much had changed since they testified in the House on this bill.

Hardy wanted clarification about the disclosure forms the Ethics Commission mentioned and wanted to let him know they were looking at this.

Senator Clarkson asked about how primaries are used. Progressives have major party status, she noted, and yet they use the Democratic primary as “their first option.” She is annoyed that they “use it that way.” Wronski admitted it was and is discouraging that it occurs this way, but Sandy Haus and Democrats actually started the practice years ago. He cautioned that if “we move away from that we end up with less candidates and more unopposed incumbents.”

Clarkson disagreed with that assertion, but before they could debate, Hardy moved them along to their next witness, Paul Dame (Chairman, Vermont Republican Party). His testimony also mirrored that of the house, which was essentially that candidates should “pick a lane.”

He expressed concern that the campaign contribution limits in the bill may not address “the issues” as parties can still provide unlimited funds but, under the new language, those funds could not be returned upstream, which is an issue.

Dame also raised concerns about the required public posting of addresses of local party officers. Appropriate addresses for contact at the state party offices is sufficient, he thinks. In today’s political environment, he believes posting the addresses of local officials poses a safety risk that outweighs the public good.

Senator Watson agreed that doxing is a real issue and that many legislators now list their addresses as the statehouse. She also mentioned that Mayor Weinberger has experienced protests at his home, where he has young children.

Senator White voiced sympathy but argued there must be “some level of contact” for “organizing” at the local level. Dame thought the best way is to have that data is with the state party itself and questioned why would post that data publicly when it’s a private party list.

Jim Dandeneau (Executive Director, Vermont Democratic Party) presented next, in support of the “sore loser” provisions. He believes candidates should not get “a second bite at the apple.

He is also in favor of requiring names and towns of local officials to be made public, but perhaps not addresses. Like the others, he was also unhappy with the current candidate contribution language and how that would be operationalized between state and local party organizations.

Dandeneau closed by saying that his overall goal is to make voting “voting easier everywhere we can” and has been “stunned” at the opposition that has occurred. Clarkson jumped in agreeing to that.

Hardy stated there will “definitely” be more testimony next week.



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