Eric Davis: Short campaigns favor Scott and Gray

The Vermont Secretary of State’s Office will begin mailing General Election ballots to voters at the end of next week. All active registered voters in Vermont will receive a ballot by mail between Sept. 21 and Oct. 1. 

Active registered voters are those who have not been issued a challenge by their local Board of Civil Authority, usually for failing to vote in multiple elections in succession and then not responding to inquiries from the BCA.

The Secretary of State’s Office urges everyone to make a voting plan for this fall. Although voters have a choice whether to vote by mail or in person, voters are encouraged to vote by mail and to vote early — by Oct. 24. This will reduce person-to-person contact at polling places and will give postal workers and town clerks ample time to deliver and process ballots. 

In order to be counted, mail ballots in Vermont must be received by town and city clerks no later than the time in-person polling places close at 7 p.m. on Nov. 3. What counts is the time the ballot is received, not when it is postmarked. As the Secretary of State advises, mailing your ballot no later than Saturday, Oct. 24, is highly recommended.

If most voters follow this advice, there are about six weeks left in the campaign season. This short campaign should benefit Republican Gov. Phil Scott and Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor Molly Gray.

Scott has said that his priority over the next several months will be leading and coordinating Vermont’s response to the coronavirus. He will be attending very few explicitly partisan or political events this fall. As was the case before the primary election, he will participate in debates and candidate forums, especially those sponsored by media organizations that have traditionally mounted such events in September and October of election years. 

Scott will probably not attend very many Republican Party events in Vermont between now and Election Day. Since the Vermont Republican Party’s apparatus is now controlled by supporters of President Trump, Scott might not be comfortable at such events. The governor has said that he will not be voting for Donald Trump and Mike Pence this year, and that he is considering voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

A poll conducted by Vermont Public Radio and Vermont Public Television found that 82% of Vermonters approve of Scott’s handling of the coronavirus. When he declared his candidacy for governor, Democratic nominee David Zuckerman planned to run against Scott on issues such as the minimum wage, paid family and medical leave, and the need for more aggressive environmental and alternative energy policies.

Now Zuckerman has the unenviable task of trying to persuade voters to change the state’s leadership at the time of one of the most serious crises Vermont has faced. The fact that the Democratic Governors Association has not yet spent any money on behalf of Zuckerman’s candidacy is as good a statement as any on the current state of the campaign for governor. With ballots arriving in voters’ mailboxes within the next two weeks, Zuckerman has little time left to make his case that he should replace Scott. 

Molly Gray won a convincing victory in a four-candidate Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, and has kept up the pace of her well-organized and well-funded campaign over the past month. Through a combination of social media, news coverage in print, broadcast, and online media, and socially distanced outdoor public events, Gray has kept her candidacy in the public eye.

Her Republican opponent, Scott Milne, has not yet begun campaigning actively, and his history in previous races has been to leave things until the last minute. This approach will not work in a shortened campaign year. Since 2010, Vermonters have voted for candidates from different parties for governor and lieutenant governor, and this trend could well continue in 2020.

Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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