Record could fall as Vermonters go to the polls

State Senate President Tim Ashe, right, campaigns at the Manchester roundabout with attorney Bradley Myerson on Monday. Ashe is running for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

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For candidates and town clerks in Southern Vermont, weeks of preparation come down to a single day — Tuesday, primary day in the Green Mountain State.

Thousands of voters have already cast ballots, sending them in by mail or dropping them off with their town clerk. Others will line up at the state's 275 polling places to drop off ballots, or to vote as they would any other year, pandemic or no pandemic.

Of course, this is not any other year.

"This is like no election we have experienced in recent history," Secretary of State Jim Condos said in a press availability Monday.

Condos' office pushed the effort to have Vermonters vote in advance in order to lessen potential exposure of COVID-19, and figures provided by Condos' office suggested the strategy worked. By 4:30 p.m. Monday, the state had 111,906 early or absentee ballots in hand out of 153,229 requests. While Condos would not predict a record turnout for today, the 2016 record total turnout of 120,132 voters was in range as of press time.

The response fairly obliterated the 22,363 absentee votes received in 2018 and the 17,086 absentee votes received in 2018 — combined.

While town clerks have been allowed to enter ballots into vote tabulating machines, the process of counting may not begin until 7 Tuesday night. So Vermont voters eager to learn election results, and the reporters who inform them, might need to be patient, Condos said. (Reader note: Stay tuned to our websites and social media channels on Tuesday night and Wednesday, as results may not be available by press time.)

While the Secretary of State's election website will have unofficial results starting at about 8 p.m. Tuesday, Condos reminded reporters and observers that the results are not official until they have been reviewed and certified, about 48 hours after the voting is concluded. He advised the media and the public to "move away from the notion" that the election process ends when the polls close.

"We must be ready for the reality that counting the election with integrity may take longer than in times past," he said.

While Condos does not expect significant delays, he asked that people "exercise patience and remember our town clerks and election workers are working extra hard to assure that the door to democracy is open to all Vermont voters."

Races at stake include Democratic and Republican party nominations for governor, lieutenant governor and Congress and a Democratic contest for Auditor of Accounts. Locally, there are primaries in the Benningon 2-1, Bennington 3, Bennington-4, Windham-3 and Windham-4 districts of the Vermont House of Representatives.

Condos said more than 104,000 of the 152,000-plus vote-by-mail ballots requested by Vermont voters had been returned by Monday morning. While Condos would not predict today's vote would break the turnout record for a primary election set in 2016, he suspects that it might.

He also sought to reassure voters that the early voting system is "safe, simple and secure," with multiple safeguards to protect against the possibility of voter fraud — a possibility he said multiple studies show is exceptionally low.

And he emphasized the polls will indeed be open as usual, though some may have moved in order to allow for social distancing, and all will ask voters to wear masks as required.

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Voters who still have ballots and want to vote should bring them to the polling place today, Condos said. He advised voters to check with their town clerk, or at the secretary of state website.

As for vote-by-mail: Vermont's standard for counting ballots is that they be in the hands of the town clerk by 7 p.m. on election day, Condos said. A postmark is not sufficient.

In Bennington, Town Clerk Cassandra Barbeau said she had 2,056 voted ballots returned as of Monday afternoon and was still receiving them. Londonderry Town Clerk Kelly Pajala said 224 ballots out of 339 requested had been returned as of Monday afternoon.

Manchester town clerk Anita Sheldon said her office had received 959 absentee ballots out of the 1,308 ballots mailed out. "We are expecting a slow day at the polls, as we have had a great absentee ballot turnout," she said.

"So far we have issued 3,450 ballots and received back 2,381," Brattleboro Town Clerk Hillary Francis said. "So far we have received back enough ballots to put us almost with as many voters total for 2018, which was our highest turnout year for this type of election in over 12 years."

On the ballot are statewide primaries with candidates seeking nominations for the state's top two jobs.

On the Democratic side, former Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman and Bennington attorney Patrick Winburn are seeking the nomination for governor. Incumbent Republican Gov. Phil Scott is facing a primary challenge from attorney and farmer John Klar of Brookfield.

Zuckerman's decision to seek the top office has led to a crowded race for the lieutenant governor's office. Democratic state Senators Tim Ashe and Debbie Ingram, assistant attorney general Molly Gray and Newfane activist Brenda Seigel are pursuing the Democratic nomination, while communications consultant Meg Hansen of Manchester, former gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne and business owner Dana Colson Jr. are on the Republican side.

State Rep. Linda Joy Sullivan of Dorset is challenging incumbent Auditor Doug Hoffer for the Democratic nomination for the position.

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch faces Wallingford activist Ralph Corbo in the Democratic primary and is expected to win. Republicans Miriam Berry, Jimmy Rodriguez, Justin Tuthill and Anya Tynio are seeking the Republican nomination for the seat.

Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for New England Newspapers. Reach him at


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