VT voter registration official: ‘I just want things fair and honest’

FAIR AND HONEST: Lax oversight at polling places threatens fair elections in Vermont.

By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog

As campaign season heats up nationwide, voters are looking for candidates who will perform the duties of elected office with honesty and integrity. No less important, voters want the election process itself to be marked by the same integrity.

To help identify challenges to fair and honest elections in Vermont, Watchdog.org conducted an interview with Linda Chagnon, a member of the Board of Registration of Voters in Burlington. A long-time resident of the city, Chagnon is part of a nine-member panel appointed to certify and maintain the list of registered voters eligible to vote in local and federal elections.

As people serving on the front lines of elections integrity, Chagnon and fellow board members ensure that Burlington’s voter rolls are accurate and up-to-date. They also appear at the city’s seven polling places on election day, offering support to ward clerks and party-affiliated checkers.

In the first of this two-part interview, Chagnon shares difficulties election officials face in ensuring that only registered voters vote in elections.

Q: How can poll workers know someone is a registered voter on election day?

A: When you first register to vote, you’re given a pink slip, a copy of your registration form. If you’ve recently registered to vote, you also should have a copy. The bottom of the copy says “take this to the polls with you, it is your proof you are registered to vote.” But the voters are not doing it.

REGISTERED TO VOTE?: Poll workers are on the front lines when it comes to enforcing voter registration checklists throughout the state.

Q: How frequently do voters fail to show proof of voter registration?

A: This happens all the time. It was very heavy during the 2012 election with President Obama. A lot of young people were coming in and saying, “I think I registered.” Of course, there was no record — there was no proof. A few bring in their pink copies, but very few. Most don’t, so there’s no proof. And you take their word for it and you fill out a form.

Q: So, people who are not on the checklist are showing up at polls and claiming to be registered voters?

A: What I’ve been seeing is people say, “Oh, I registered over here” or “I registered over there” — and there is no proof. But you have to take their word for it. And you give them a form, and they have to sign it, saying that they did register to vote someplace but somehow didn’t get put on the checklist. And clerks come back with a form that puts them on the checklist and they can vote. It happens at every polling place.

Q: Did you observe cases like this in the recent June 3 special election?

A: I’ll tell you of a couple instances, and there are more. A woman showed up and wasn’t on the voter checklist. They sent her to the ward clerk, and he called City Hall to find out what they were supposed to do about her, because she’s not on the checklist. Well, she got put on the checklist.

Later this guy comes in and he said he wanted to vote, but his name wasn’t on the checklist. He said, “Hmm, I don’t know how that happened. My wife was supposed to take care of it.” He didn’t say anything about any forms or anything. He said, “My wife was supposed to take care of it, she works at City Hall.” He came back to the ward clerk, and I thought for sure he’s not going to get through, but he did. He got through, too. They put him on the checklist.

Q: So anyone can show up on election day, say they registered somewhere, and get put on the checklist and vote?

A: The official checkers are supposed to send him back to the ward clerk, because that’s who processes people who say they should be on the checklist but are not. But he didn’t sign anything. He said, “My wife would take care of it.” But you can’t vote if you don’t fill out a registration form. There’s no way she could “take care of it” — he would have to do something. He got put on there, some papers were filled out, and he could vote. I come to find out that his wife was that first woman who came in and got put on first.”

YOUR VOTE COUNTS: Election laws are only as good as their enforcement.

YOUR VOTE COUNTS: Election laws are only as good as their enforcement.

Q: They didn’t have voter registration pink slips or other proof of identification?

A: The persons came in, they weren’t on the checklist, they filled out some papers, and they got on the checklist. And from what I heard and what they said, there was no proof of the validity of their having been registered. They didn’t bring any proof.

Q: How is this happening?

A: The people who are working in the election process don’t have a lot of information. It’s there, but it’s not being systematically taught. There’s a lot of education of the workers for elections that is not going on. There are a lot of people getting through the voting process that I don’t think should be getting through. I’ve seen a lot of things that do not jive with election laws. A lot of people aren’t educated on what the right things are to do.

Q: Is this a recent trend?

A: I’ve been at this for 30 years. It used to be very well watched. There were a lot of volunteer workers from each party watching the process. It’s gotten pretty lax. Not many people show up, and they’re not doing the side-checking they used to do.

Q: Lax oversight at polls undercuts the board’s mission to maintain a valid checklist of registered voters. What should be done about it?

A: People say to me, “Why do we need ID?” and “Why can’t we have same-day registration?” I say, well, that blows everything. Let’s just have a free-for-all with no checks and balances. I just want things fair and honest. That’s my motto: fair and honest. If it doesn’t seem fair and honest, I think we should be checking into it.”

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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