Voter guides see uptick in interest

While the government releases information about where and how to vote, a number of nongovernmental entities outside the media produce voting guides. For the 2020 elections, some are seeing heightened interest.

Johnna Ferguson, who manages VOTE411.org for the League of Women Voters of Vermont, said Vermont web traffic for the site is up 243% compared to this same time in 2016.

“I credit that to more Vermonters voting earlier this year, so they are doing their research earlier,” she said.

VOTE411 is owned by the national League of Women Voters. State chapters can pay to access it and they coordinate volunteers to make sure the information is accurate, especially as it pertains to state voting laws, said Ferguson.

The Vermont league went with a different service in 2018, but switched back because VOTE411 has better transparency, said Ferguson. Maintaining these databases requires a host of volunteers or a paid third party, she said. The VOTE411 service gets information on candidates from publicly available data and by sending questions to the candidates themselves.

Not all respond, she said, and fewer have chosen to do so during the past 20 years.

“When I’ve spoken with candidates, it sounds like a lot of the time these days their campaign managers tell them don’t answer questions unless it’s from reporters,” she said.

In addition to candidates’ positions on issues, the service will tell people who is on their ballot, how and where they can vote and how to get special accommodations if needed.

Ferguson said Vermont has few barriers to voting compared to other states.

“A lot of what we have, leagues in other states are fighting to get,” she said. For instance, Vermont has same-day voting registration and it allows people to register to vote when they get a driver’s license.

The remaining barriers to voting tend to be some combination of voter apathy or the voter doesn’t feel like they know enough about the candidates or issues, she said.

“Voters need simple, accessible tools to help them navigate the voting process before Election Day,” Ferguson stated in a release. “Vermont already has an excellent resource in the My Voter Page at mvp.vermont.gov. Through VOTE411, the League provides an additional way for voters to access the information they need anytime they need it. We are pleased to provide this important, nonpartisan election resource to all Vermont voters.”

The website, mvp.vermont.gov, is maintained by the Vermont Secretary of State. Eric Covey, chief of staff at the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office, said the page is relatively new, having been launched in 2015. Vermonters can log onto it and, among other things, track the status of their mail-in ballot or check on their registration status.

Disability Rights Vermont also maintains a nonpartisan voter guide. Ed Paquin, executive director of Disability Rights Vermont, said it can be found on the group’s website, disabilityrightsvt.org, under the publications tab on the left side of the page. Additionally, a link is pinned to the top of the group’s Facebook page.

“What we’ve tried to do is give an overview from several different angles,” he said. “You can find out where your town clerk is … then there are sections that tell you how to register to vote, what your different options are, how to vote, where you can vote and what the options are for people with disabilities.”

For Disability Rights Vermont, the main thing stopping people from voting, according to those they asked, was people didn’t feel as if they knew enough about the position they were voting for. Paquin said to remedy this, a section was added giving a short, clear description of what each elected role is responsible for.

Moreover, candidates can supply a link to their website and submit a short blurb. Paquin said these are not edited as Disability Rights Vermont isn’t a partisan group.

keith.whitcomb

@rutlandherald.com

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