Happy election day, Vermonters! While waiting for polls to close and the real news of the day — we'll be live-blogging results starting at 7 p.m. — I'm on an election day road trip visiting polling stations up and down a 50-mile stretch of Route 7. I'll be updating all day with notes from the road and opinions from voters.
5 p.m., Charlotte
My respect for the campaigners has gone up significantly since the sun went down. The cold weather wasn’t scaring away the small gaggle of dogged pols outside of the Charlotte Central School. Ed Stone, a Charlotte selectman and incumbent Mike Yantachka are vying for a seat in the House, but just as in Brandon, the mood here was congenial.
“It’s been a great day,” Stone told me. “We’ve all been getting along really great.”
But the real star of the little campaign huddle was Robin Reid, who called out to me, “This is the race of the day, Katie.” Bundled up in a puffy down jacket, Reid was toting a large sign encouraging voters to write in Robin Reid for Justice of the Peace. Reid’s served as a JP in Charlotte for six years — but this year the independent botched her paperwork. “I have to admit, I didn’t get my paperwork in on time,” she said. She was going to throw in the towel, but a few friends encouraged her to give a write-in candidacy a shot.
But it’s a tough race. For years the Republican and Democratic parties in Charlotte put forth six candidates each for the race, and the justices ran uncontested. But today there are 17 names on the ballot for 12 spots.
Apparently, Reid likes serving as a justice of the peace well enough to spend 12 hours outside on a brisk November day. She was hustling, calling out to voters as they streamed past by name to remind them to pencil her in. "It’s a nice way to serve your community,” she told me. She’s done a few weddings — those she described as “fun” — but Reid’s real joy is property valuations and tax abatements. To each her own!
The voting was taking place in the multi-purpose room at the school. Eighth graders stationed just outside the room were peddling the last of their bake sale wares to fund a class trip; by 5 p.m. they’d made $1000 selling cupcakes alone. Meanwhile, voters came and went at a steady clip. I spoke with Pamela Burton-Macauley on her way out. “I’m wearing my colors,” she told me, unzipping her sweatshirt to flash an “Obama Mama” t-shirt. She’s nervous about the tight race. Her family is moving to England for six months in January; if Romney wins, she’s telling people she’s “leaving the country,” but if it’s Obama, she’s “taking a vacation.”
As for races closer to home — “It’s really boring this year,” Burton-Macauley told me. “I hate saying that!” But in the end, she’s been so transfixed by the presidential election that battles in her home state seem “inconsequential” in comparison.
In other news from Charlotte, it was here that I spotted my first exit pollster! A tall, clipboard-totin’ guy chased down every fifth voter out the door and proffered an anonymous survey. So far, he told me, he’d collected somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 surveys over the course of the day. He would be closing up shop at 6 p.m., an hour before the polls closed, to get the data back to his research firm, which supplies the Associated Press with its numbers.
That, incidentally, was when I threw in the towel — to type up this final dispatch, scarf down a quick dinner, and jet north to Burlington to watch the returns trickle in. Don't forget to join us for our live blog!
3:30 p.m., Vergennes
Here's the news from the Little City, where voters were casting their ballots in the basement of the fire house of Green Street. Assistant city clerk Melissa Wright told me she's predicting turnout to be on par with what the city saw in 2008 — so, roughly 1000 of the 1564 registered voters in Vergennes. "It's been really steady," she said. "We'll probably be slammed between 4 and 7, though." Sure enough, traffic was starting to pick up. A few parents with kids in tow — and lessons about civic responsibility in mind — headed in to cast their votes. By and large, the refrain here was more of the same: Vermonters are relieved the campaign is over.
"Glad to get all the [lawn] signs away," said Sherry Cushing. "They're too distracting."
It's getting colder out there, which meant most folks wanted to keep their remarks brief when I accosted them on the doorstep of the polling station. But I did hear some interesting tidbits — including some grumbling about Gov. Peter Shumlin from an otherwise avowed Democratic voter. Richard Austin had an almost zen air about him when I asked how he was feeling, now that national and local campaigns were wrapping up. "Not so frustrated," he said, with the air of a guy just trying to ignore a trying couple of weeks. But when pressed about statewide races, and despite his usual political inclinations, he told me, "I have no faith in Shumlin." Would Republican challenger Randy Brock be any better?
"I don't think he would do any worse," Austin said.
True, it's not a ringing endorsement. But when I asked Austin if he suspected others out there — Democrats, or left-leaning Vermonters — felt the way he did, he was more emphatic. "I think there are bunches and bunches of us." Is that the case? We'll know soon enough.
2 p.m., Middlebury
On to Middlebury!
I skipped over the little towns of Leicester and Salisbury on my trek north, and swung instead by the municipal gym off Main Street in Middlebury. That's where I met Christopher Potter (pictured), who takes the award so far for the day's most gregarious poll worker. It's a paid position — "Not a lot, but every little bit helps" — and Potter, an artist, takes the job seriously. He showed up today in a dapper suit (his "I Voted" sticker affixed to the jacket) and thick-rimmed glasses.
"I love this job," Potter told me. He's on "crowd control" duty, directing voters to the tables where they can check in and pick up their ballots. Admittedly, there wasn't much of a crowd at the time. Town clerk Ann Webster told me that things were hectic this morning, between school tours and the rush of early-morning voters. But traffic had slowed to a manageable and steady trickle by mid-afternoon.
Potter moved to Middlebury as a child in 1955, and told me that one of his favorite parts of this job is running into old friends and acquaintances. Sure enough, just a moment later, a woman strolled in and exclaimed, "Hi, Chris! Haven't seen you in a long time — good to see you." He steered her toward the voting line and then told me, "A fellow artist."
Having only stopped in at two polls so far, it's a little premature for me to start making generalizations. But I'm starting to hear some common refrains. Ask a voter how they're feeling now that the campaign season in wrapping up, and you'll probably hear some version of this: "Can I tell you the truth? I'm glad it's over with." That's what Gerald Brown told me, as he and his wife Audrey paused on their way out of the polling station. He shook his head and grumbled about the money that's been spent on the national campaign, then put in his two cents about the tax debate: "I don't know what you think, but I say, make some of the richer people contribute."
I also chatted with Marina Sideli, a Middlebury College student who'd traipsed down the hill to cast her first vote in a presidential election. "It's kind of stressful," she said of the campaign. She's tired of political rants on Facebook and social media. "We'll see what happens."
Like Brown and Sideli, Wendy White told me she's just happy it's almost over. How's she feeling at the end of a long campaign? "I think, like everyone else, exhausted." She 'fessed up to occasionally screaming at her television, and of tuning out when the campaign rhetoric got to be too much for her. But she is watching some races quite closely. A supporter of Progressive/Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Cassandra Gekas, White's anxiously waiting to see how health care reform unfolds in Vermont. She recently moved back to the States after a stint in Europe, and says the situation here surrounding health care "is appalling." If Gekas could help make single-payer health care a reality in Vermont, she's got White's vote.
12 p.m., Brandon
My first stop, Brandon, took me on a brief detour from Route 7 — turns out, Brandon's polling place is the Neshobe Elementary School, a few miles from the village downtown. I was immediately accosted by a cherubic pupil doling out pop quiz questions on the U.S. Constitution. I failed my one question on the 19th Amendment (I choked!), but walked away with a pocket-size copy of the Constitution for remedial study.
So far, turnout seems strong in Brandon — the electronic voting machine counted 891 votes cast so far when I peeked in on elections, about half of the total votes cast in 2008.
But the real action was outside, where Steve Carr, Butch Shaw and Seth Hopkins were parked with their campaign signs. They're all vying for two seats in the Vermont House in what, thanks to redistricting, is the new district representing Sudbury, Pittsford and Brandon. Shaw's an incumbent who previously represented the one-seat district of Sudbury and Pittsford — and the last time he ran, he did so unopposed.
This race, on the other hand, has been an active one. Lawn signs for all three abound in Brandon. Would some last minute face-time make a difference at the polls?
"I don't know if it changes anybody's mind," said Carr, balancing his "Put a Carr in the House" sign in front of him as he spoke. Hopkins adds that it's a way to let voters know "you want it bad enough to stand out here for 12 hours."
They were jovial enough, chatting together after what Hopkins said has been a positive campaign. "We all want the job, certainly," he said, but even on election day they're all getting along.
"Good luck, good luck, good luck! Everyone, good luck," called out one voter to all three men as she hustled in to cast her vote.