With a presidential election a year away, Vermont officials are working to make casting a ballot easier for voters.
Starting Oct. 12, the Office of the Secretary of State will roll out a new online elections management system that will let Vermont residents register to vote electronically, request absentee ballots and track their personal voting information.
Secretary of State Jim Condos called the nearly two-year process of overhauling the state’s systems a response to his agency’s “antiquated” way of doing business.
“We think that this will help us increase participation not only from our local residents, but also from our military and overseas voters,” Condos told StateScoop. “It improves the accuracy, it certainly has a reduction in budgetary requirements and increases the speed in which [registrations] are done.”
Condos has spearheaded an effort to modernize the agency’s systems since he took office in 2011. Since last year, Condos’ team has unveiled an online campaign finance disclosure system and an online registration tool for lobbyists. Now, after the better part of a year readying the elections system for release, Condos sees the site as a logical next step for Vermont.
Condos is particularly excited about the section of the site known as “My Voter Page.” Similar to systems in Georgia and Montana, the tool will let registered voters get a look at the location of their polling place, sample ballots for upcoming elections and the status of any absentee ballots they’ve mailed in.
“One of the biggest complaints is that people really don’t trust that their ballot is actually being counted,” Condos said. “This will really let them know that the ballot was actually received back into the town clerk’s office.”
Condos sees the system drastically cutting down the amount of time staffers spend doing data entry, as they’ll no longer be forced to try to interpret ages and addresses from handwritten forms.
“If you could see some of the forms that my staff or the town clerks receive, you wonder how they get anybody’s name right,” Condos said. “Sometimes it’s very hard to read, they send the wrong age to us, sometimes the carbon copy doesn’t work as well as it should. In any case, no longer are clerks or our staff trying to read handwriting, it’s now being entered by the person.”
Condos estimates that the state registers roughly 20,000 voters each year.
The new site should also speed communication between Condos’ agency and other departments that register voters, like the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
“They have their own forms to fill out and send to us, so we’re hopeful that we’re going to kick them right into the online voter registration,” Condos said. “We won’t have the lag time waiting for those forms to show up here, in some cases it could be weeks before they get to our office.”
While the savings for the government should be good news for taxpayers, Condos stressed that its biggest impact may be how it builds trust in Vermont’s electoral process.
“We think this is a really huge benefit to the integrity of our voting system,” Condos said.