Rutland County voters were chomping at the ballot during Tuesday’s midterm elections, and town clerks reported high voter turnouts and long lines.
Wells Town Clerk Nora Sargent said 384 voters had hit the Wells Town Hall by 3:30 p.m., hours before closing.
“We had 112 absentees today,” Sargent said later. “Five-hundred and one out of 904 voters! That’s a lot for us!”
Secretary of State Jim Condos said though the results remain unofficial, voter attendance appeared high for a midterm election and should be a source of pride for voters in the Green Mountain State.
“Clearly many Vermonters are tuned in, and actively engaged in our democracy ... It’s possible that this year a record number of voters cast ballots for a midterm election,” he said.
Condos said that though the numbers are still being finalized and will likely change, statewide turnout safely hovered between 55 and 58 percent, with around 276,818 votes unofficially reported in the governor’s race out of about 486,752 total registered voters, Condos said.
“Election Day here in VT was a shining example of what healthy democracy looks like,” Condos said in a statement Wednesday. “The civil discourse among candidates, high voter turnout and implementation of policies and practices that preserve voter rights and access that we saw yesterday are all reasons we can be proud.”
Pittsford saw 60 percent of its voters participate: 1,287 of its 2,299 registered voters showed up to the polls.
“We had quite a bit higher turnout yesterday,” said Pittsford Town Clerk Helen McKinlay. “We had a very steady crowd all day.”
She said Tuesday’s turnout marks a 24 percent increase from the 2014 midterm elections, where 976 showed up.
“I think there’s a lot of issues,” McKinlay said. “I think there’s so much going on right now, between school safety, high taxes and health care, it’s got everyone wanting to participate.”
Rutland Town saw 63 percent of its registered voters participate, 1,963 total, and Castleton reported 1,537 voters turned out for Tuesday’s midterm polling after 523 showed for the primaries in August.
“It was high for us,” said Castleton Town Clerk Nedra Bowen.
Both Fair Haven and Poultney saw 54 percent of their registered voters take part, when both saw only 42 percent participation for the last midterm elections.
“We’ve certainly been busy,” said Fair Haven Town Clerk Suzanne Ducharme, who said they reached 600 voters before 4 p.m.
West Rutland saw half of its 847 voters at the polls, up from 39 percent during the 2014 midterms, while Proctor saw 58 percent of its voters — 692 people — come out.
“It was probably all the focus on the national level,” said Killington Town Clerk Lucrecia Wonsor, whose town saw 58 percent participation — 12 percent higher than in 2014. “With everything that’s going on in general, I think people had a high motivation to vote this time.”
Rutland City’s four wards saw an overall 54 percent turnout on Election Day, with residents overflowing polling stations that quickly became standing-room only, City Clerk Henry Heck said.
Ward 1 at the Godnick Center on Deer Street saw 61 percent turnout with 1,897 voters, while Ward 2 at Christ the King School saw 1,446 voters, 53 percent of its total registered voter population.
Ward 3 at the American Legion on Washington Street saw 45 percent turnout with 978 voters, while Ward 4 at the Calvary Bible Church turned out 1,358, 53 percent of their voters.
“Its the biggest midterm I’ve done since I’ve been here,” Heck said. “My day started at 5 a.m. It was a 19-hour day for me, but those are election days.”
Heck said he expected a bigger turnout than the 5,679 voters, attributing the lower afternoon turnout to the wind and rain.
“From 7 a.m. on, there were just lines and lines out the door, consistent throughout most of the day,” Heck said. “This was a very political election — very R and very D. People voted with their party.
“There’s unrest,” Heck said. “It’s not as commonplace friendly: before, you could go out and get in a fight, dust each other off. Now, it’s more hatred.”
In the years since he began as clerk for Rutland City in 2002, Heck said the biggest turnout he’d seen was in 2008 when 7,800 turned out to vote, with a close 7,000 returning to the polls four years later.
“I think more people responded to this election,” Heck said. “It was a politically-driven election. More people across the country are getting out and voicing how they think our government should be run ... I think that in 2020, if Trump runs, it will be like the year when Obama ran. I think people will think ‘this is our time.’”
Gov. Phil Scott won every single town in Rutland County.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., almost matched that feat, but was edged out by Republican Lawrence Zupan in Mount Tabor (31-30) and Clarendon (519-440). Clarendon also kept Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., from a clean sweep, as the only town in the county to go for Republican challenger Anya Tynio (479-473).
The race for Rutland County’s three state Senate seats — in which Republicans Sen. Brian Collamore and James McNeil won alongside Democrat Cheryl Hooker, leaving behind Democrats Greg Cox and Scott Garren as well as Republican Ed Larson — was far less monolithic.
The Republican primary, in which five candidates vied for the three spots on the ballot, seemed to point to a division between the city and the outlying towns when Larson, a retired police officer and former Rutland City alderman, only managed to edge out Poultney Selectman Terry Williams because Larson’s lead in the city made up for Williams’ advantage in the rest of the county.
The general election painted a much more complicated picture. Larson came in fifth in the city, about 150 votes behind Cox, a farmer from West Rutland and president of the Vermont Farmers Food Center. Larson outperformed Cox in the rest of the county, but failed to pick up enough votes to make it past fourth place.
Larson and Cox could not be immediately reached Wednesday.
Collamore, the sole incumbent, won the most towns of the six candidates and was in the top three in every town that wasn’t swept by the Democrats. McNeil, co-owner of McNeil and Reedy, was in the top three almost as consistently as Collamore and even outpaced his fellow Republican here and there.
Hooker, a retired teacher who has served in both houses of the Legislature, won the city and performed well enough in the county that she still would have been in the top three even without her early lead. She came in second overall, winning Brandon, Wallingford, Killington, Sudbury and Tinmouth in addition to the city.
Several towns turned in votes along party lines. Rutland Town, Pittsford, Clarendon, Castleton, Fair Haven, Mendon, Danby, Mount Tabor, Wells and Ira all went for Collamore, McNeil and Larson, though not necessarily in that order. Democratic sweeps were rarer and confined to smaller towns — Pittsfield, Sudbury, Middletown Springs, Pawlet, Shrewsbury.
Cox won Poultney, Pittsfield, Middletown Springs and Pawlet, but only managed third place in his hometown of West Rutland, outpaced by Collamore and McNeil.
Garren, who had the least name recognition on the ballot, won his hometown of Shrewsbury, but otherwise trailed. In the other towns the Democrats swept, he came in third. In the rest of the towns he was almost always in last place.
“It was very evident, when I was out canvassing and honking and waving with Cheryl and Greg — lots of people were smiling and waving and recognizing them,” Garren said.
Collamore said the result showed the voters’ faith in him and otherwise said a leftward shift was evident. McNeil said he thought the results had little to do with geography or party politics.
“I think Rutland County voted for experience,” McNeil said. “Brian Collamore — four years experience. I had five years in the House and Cheryl had House and Senate experience.”
Hooker said experience was probably a factor, but also offered her own take on the result.
“I think people perhaps were looking for change, for diversity in the delegation as far as gender and certainly some diversity as far as party,” she said.
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Informal dance showcase with live music. Bonnie Watson, Molly Winslow, Devin Balcacer and friends. 5 p.m. Stone Valley Arts at Fox Hill, 145 East Main St., Poultney. 884-8052. www.stonevalleyarts.org.