Voter integrity questioned by ‘challenged voters’ in Vermont

YOU’RE CHALLENGED: In Vermont, voters who haven’t voted recently are required to show proof of identity at the polls — but no one is enforcing the law.

By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog

In part one of this Watchdog.org feature on election integrity in Vermont, Linda Chagnon, a member of the board of Registration of Voters in Burlington, explained difficulties poll workers face in ensuring that only registered voters vote in elections.

In part two of our interview, Chagnon discusses how mismanagement of “challenged” voters creates the potential for voter fraud.

Q: You mentioned that poll workers often receive little or no training on election laws and the voter checklist. How does that affect elections in Burlington?

A. There’s a lack of education, a lack of following what the laws say. It could also be used purposefully to get people into vote when they shouldn’t.

Q. Is it difficult for poll workers to get training?

A. One guy who is new said, “You know, I tried to get some kind of formal education on what I’m supposed to be doing here at the polls — a training session. But I didn’t really get it. I don’t know what happened. They didn’t call me back.” I’ve been hearing this over and over again.

Q. Can you cite an example of how poor training of poll workers leads to errors or opens a door to voter fraud?

A. In one particular incident, one checker asked the other official checker, “What does the word ‘challenged’ mean on the checklist?” The other said, “It’s when a person comes in and doesn’t know how to fill out the ballot and needs help, so we go and help them.”

That’s not what that means. “Challenged” before a person’s name means they have not voted for four years, or possibly even eight years. You become challenged if you have not voted for four years. Then, in another four years, you can be kicked off the checklist if you have not shown up. So in eight years you’re automatically off the checklist.

ONE PERSON, MANY VOTES: Approximately 9,000 challenged voters appear on the voter rolls in Burlington, creating easy target for voter fraud.

Q. What are poll workers supposed to do when a person shows up claiming to be one of the “challenged” voters who haven’t voted in years?

A. The procedure concerning the challenge is that the person is supposed to show some form of proof that they still live at that address, like a driver’s license or an electric bill. Then they can go vote — no problem. But it doesn’t appear that anybody is doing anything with the challenge on Election Day. They just come in and vote. Challenged means you’re legally challenged, and you have a legal right to ask them for their ID. That was upheld by the Supreme Court back in 2013.

Q. So, challenge voters are showing up in elections and voting without any proof of their identity?

A. They’re not asking them for some proof like an electric bill or a driver’s license or an insurance card. To my knowledge that’s not being done. They’re ignoring the word “challenged” beside the names, if they do see it. Nobody knew what the word “challenge” even meant at the polls where they were checking.

Q. So, poll workers in Burlington typically don’t know what to do with these cases?

A. One lady came in and said, “I know I’m registered to vote because I voted 30 years ago. Can I vote today? Am I still on the checklist?” The checkers didn’t know what to do. I said, “This is the law: if you’ve not voted in four years you become challenged, and if you’ve not voted in eight years you’re taken off the checklist. You say you haven’t voted in 30 years? No, you’re not on the checklist.”

Q. How many challenged voters are on the checklist for the city of Burlington?

A. A couple years ago there were like 9,000 challenged people.

Q. Can anyone access the checklist and see who are those 9,000 or so voters who haven’t voted in a while?

A. You can get a copy of the checklist off the computer. The word “challenge” will be on there with the name.

Q. Does that open the door to fraud?

A. Who’s to say someone else couldn’t use that name? They come in and say, “I’m so and so,” and (we say), “Oh, you’re challenged.” They know all you have to do is state the address, which is on the paper already, and then go vote.

Q. Does the city notify voters who haven’t voted in a while and are challenged?

A. They’re sent a letter saying they will be taken off the checklist if they don’t respond and say they want to be kept on. A lot of people don’t respond, so they are challenged, because they don’t respond to this official letter. In another four years we can automatically take them off the checklist.

OR DOES IT?: Your vote counts less when election laws aren't enforced.

OR DOES IT?: Your vote counts less when election laws aren’t enforced.

Q. What would happen if someone successfully voted in the place of one of the challenged voters who haven’t shown up in years to vote?

A. Once they vote, the scenario is that the challenged voter is taken off the challenged list, and the name remains on the checklist. And the real person probably still does not live in town or show up to vote.

Q. Do some voters appear suspicious when they show up to vote without proof of identity?

A. The random ones don’t push it. They say I’ll just vote in the next election. The organized ones want to push it and keep going…(but) have not brought any proof (of identity).

Q. What’s being done to fix this and other election issues?

A. I’ve been discussing it with the board as things came up. I’ve been to City Hall talking about it. I haven’t had a lot of positive responses from City Hall.

Q. Who’s ultimately responsible for these issues in Burlington: Scott Schrader at the city clerk’s office, or the Board of Registered Voters?

A. He’s in charge of elections at the polls, but we’re in charge of the checklist.

Q. Is it important that the board remain independent from the clerk’s office, and how does that relate to making decisions?

A. They want to bring the Board of Voter Registration into the city clerk’s office so they will be under the city clerk, to have full control over the elections. …(Scott) is not a member of the Board of Voter Registration. If he wants something done, he has to get approval of the board.

Contact Bruce Parker at bparker@watchdog.org

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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