Vermont House Committee Revises Omnibus Election Law Bill to Make Independent Petition Deadline Far Worse

On April 1, the Vermont House Government Operations considered SB 86, which had passed the State Senate last year. It is an omnibus election law bill. The House Committee rewrote the portion of the bill concerning the petition deadline for independent candidates and the nominees of unqualified parties. The current deadline is in June, but the Senate version of the bill had moved it to August.

However, the House Committee revised the bill to move that deadline to the 3rd Thursday in May. If enacted, Vermont would be the only state in the nation with a petition deadline for an independent presidential candidate that is earlier than June. Even June petition deadlines are suspect, and have been declared unconstitutional, or enjoined, in Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, Nevada, and South Dakota. May petition deadlines have been declared unconstitutional, or enjoined, in Idaho and Massachusetts.

The bill also makes it more difficult for a party to qualify for its own primary. It requires town committees in 30 towns instead of 15, and also requires that such a party have county committees in at least seven counties. It does not change the existing law that also requires a vote of 5% for any statewide race. This part of the amended bill is probably aimed at the Liberty Union Party, which will have a primary in 2014 because its nominee for Secretary of State in 2012 polled 13.1% of the vote. Chances are the Liberty Union Party could not show that it has county organizations in seven counties and in 30 towns.

The bill makes it more difficult for write-in candidates in primaries to be nominated. Current law requires that a write-in candidate must not only outpoll all opposing candidates, but must poll a number of votes equal to half the number of signatures needed for primary ballot access. The bill changes that so that the write-in vote total must equal the number of signatures. The bill also moves the primary from late August to early August.

On the positive side, the bill provides that write-in candidates should file a declaration of write-in candidacy by the Friday before the general election, and if they do, their write-ins will be tallied. Currently the state has no write-in filing procedure, and generally the state won’t tally write-ins for presidential candidates in November. After the 2012 election, Vermont let Green Party volunteers do the work of tallying the write-ins for Jill Stein, but the bill would provide that election officials would do such a tally.

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