Commentary: Shrinking Vermont’s abysmal minority voting gap

In 2020, about 20% of Black citizens voted in Vermont’s general election, well short of a Census-estimated 70% of white Vermonters. That’s the second largest gap in the country. 

Last month, Secretary of State Jim Condos opined that “Ensuring the accuracy of our elections is my No. 1 priority,” boasting about “our post-election audit, and to the results certification process.” 

While I could point to past research that questions why Vermont lags behind the other 49 states on important security procedures, I’d like to highlight how Vermont finds itself with one of the lowest minority voter rates in the country, and could continue to do so for the 2022 election and beyond. Unless something is done.

Vermont had the second lowest percentage of Black voters in the country in 2020, at 20% and the third lowest percentage of Asian voters. Vermont’s percentage of Hispanic voters was higher than the national average, but still lower than the number of white Vermonters. The Census estimates that a higher percentage of Hispanic and Asian Vermonters voted in 2018 than white Vermonters, only for both populations (and the Black population) to be eclipsed by a higher percentage of white Vermonters in 2020, when all-mail balloting was first tried.

According to Census data, three Vermont minority populations had a lower percentage of voters from 2018 to 2020, ranging from 5 percent to 48 percent. Vermont’s Black voters remained steady at 1,000, while the Black citizen population rose from 4,000 to 5,000. Vermont’s Asian population increased from 4,000 in 2018 to 11,000 in 2020, but the number of Vermont Asian voters lingered at 3,000. The number of Hispanic Vermonters and voters both fell by 2,000. Meanwhile, as Vermont’s white population inched upward by 1,000, they cast 69,000 more ballots in 2020 than in 2018. White Vermonters were 26 percent more likely to vote in 2020. 

Perhaps Vermont politicians could be forgiven for trying a new all-mail ballot voting system in the rush to formulate a new voting system amidst the pandemic. However, universal mail-in voting raised red flags that were documented long before 2020. Three states had adopted all-mail balloting in the years before. Reviewing the 2018 election results, Colorado had the sixth highest discrepancy in the country with 33 percent more white citizens than Black citizens voting. Washington and Oregon also did worse than the national Black-white discrepancy of 6 percent. The results in these much larger and statistically significant states suggest that Vermont’s abhorrent discrepancies cannot be explained away by Vermont’s small size. 

These warnings didn’t stop Vermont, Utah, Hawaii, Nevada and California from joining Colorado, Washington and Oregon with all-mail balloting for the 2020 election. Given 2018’s trends, it should come as no surprise that, among the nine all-mail balloting states in 2020, only Nevada had a lower Black-white voter discrepancy than the U.S. average. 

If Vermont’s leaders are really intent on stamping out systemic racism, then our political leaders should be willing to reconsider our old voting system that delivered mixed results along racial lines, which is better than galling discrepancies. Or if we want better than “mixed” results, we may even consider voting strategies from states that have been disdained in the national media.

Interestingly, some of the states with the tightest 2020 election security produced some of the highest percentages of Black voters in the country — and the lowest discrepancies. The Census Bureau informs us that Georgia had a Black-white discrepancy eight times lower than Vermont. And Black citizens in Mississippi and Tennessee were 2-3 percent more likely to have cast their ballot than white citizens, true outliers in a country with a 6 percent discrepancy in the other direction.

Vermont already does things its own way, but that is due to a reluctance for standard security procedures more than out of any intentional strategy. Among the nine all-mail balloting states, we are the only one to avoid signature confirmation to discourage or catch cheaters. 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, we are also the only state which uses all-mail balloting for the general election while requiring voters to request ballots for the primaries. 

These oddities continue to reduce confidence in Vermont’s electoral process. And, it is at least conceivable these factors may have been responsible for Vermont’s larger Black-white voting discrepancy in 2022. 

While I doubt Vermont’s political leadership would consider reducing systemic racism by enacting serious election reform in the short term, we should consider signature confirmation for mail ballots at the very least. Doing away with our hybrid primary/general balloting system would also be an important step toward greater election security and shrinking the minority voting gap.


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