Legislators ensure voter access, Senate district may split in two

It is often said that your vote is your voice.

Participation in our democracy by voting is the backbone of our country and we are stronger when more people vote. Across the United States, voting rights are currently under attack. Sixteen states have enacted laws to make it harder to vote by mail and eight states have made it harder to vote in person by enacting voter ID laws, outlawing same day registration and eliminating polling places altogether.

Vermont, on the other hand, has thankfully taken a different path.

Universal vote-by-mail was a great success during the 2020 General Election, contributing to record turnout even during a pandemic — a 74 percent participation rate. It expanded voter access and encouraged increased participation in our democratic process. Vermonters asked legislators to build on that success, and we listened.

S.15 (Act 60) continues the vote-by-mail program, adds in other important election measures, and counters the prevailing trend across the U.S. where state legislatures are curtailing voter access with more restrictive election laws. Effective this coming November, new features will include ballots with postage-paid return envelopes mailed to all active registered voters; voters may cure defective ballots if, for example, they forgot to sign the certificate envelope; access to secure ballot drop boxes that are accessible 24/7 for voters to return their ballots; and a limit on the number of ballots someone can deliver on behalf of others.

During last week’s veto session, both the House and Senate voted to override the Gov. Phil Scott’s vetoes of H.227, Winooski charter changes, and H.177, changes to the Montpelier charter.

These two charter changes expand voting rights to legal green card residents of these two communities to local — not statewide or federal — issues. In Winooski, they will be able to vote on municipal and school ballots. Since Montpelier does not have its own high school, they will be able to vote on municipal issues only.

It takes a vote of two-thirds of the legislative members present to override a veto and for these votes all members were present on Zoom in the respective chambers, 150 in the House and 30 senators. The results of these votes honor the decisions voted on, and strongly supported, by the voters in Winooski and Montpelier.

With the passage of the three bills summarized above, voting becomes even more accessible for those Vermonters who may otherwise be left out.

Redistricting underway

Every 10 years, the U.S. Constitution calls for a nationwide census and reapportionment process. In addition, the Vermont Constitution requires the Vermont General Assembly to be periodically reapportioned. Reapportionment involves the review and re-drawing of legislative districts to ensure that Vermont’s citizens have equal representation in the General Assembly in accordance with the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This ensures that any population changes are reflected in legislative districts to maintain equal representation.

While Vermont doesn’t have a big job with our single U.S. Congressional district, state legislative districts will have to be aligned with any population shifts. While some House districts may be affected by a move away from multiple-member districts, South Burlington already has four single districts.

The current state population sets the suggested number of constituents per House district at 4,200. Last year, the Legislature passed a bill that will limit any Senate district to no more than three members. This will require a change, or division, for Chittenden County from one district with its six senators to, at minimum, two districts.

The secretary of state’s website has a map with some preliminary looks at reapportionment. Some districts are not meeting the 4,200 threshhold, while others have increased.

Continue to connect with me on these or other actions that the Legislature took this year. I look forward to speaking with you. If I don’t see you before, I hope to see you at the next SoBo Nite Out held every Thursday this summer from 5-8 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Park on Dorset Street.