With the longest and most expensive gubernatorial primary in Vermont history nearing its end, it was all hands on deck for the candidates at Burlington polling locations today.
By midday in Burlington, voter turnout was either "steady" or "slow" depending who you asked.
Burlington City Councilor Ed Adrian (pictured), who supports Deb Markowitz for governor, says turnout looked lower than on Town Meeting Day — and guessed the beautiful summer weather might be to blame.
"Everyone says rain keeps people home but maybe a bright sunny day keeps them away from the polls," Adrian says.
I tagged along with Adrian for a few hours this morning as he worked polling locations in Wards 4, 6 and 7, with a Markowitz sign and kids Elsa and Henry in tow. Markowitz is Adrian's boss; he works in the Secretary of State's Office of Professional Regulation. He and five other Democrats on the Burlington City Council threw their support to Markowitz last week — a final boost for the candidate in the five-way primary whose outcome no political expert could reliably predict.
Burlington's New North End is a Republican stronghold — but it traditionally has higher voter turnout too. Adrian says he was working these neighborhoods because, even though they are Republican-dominated, the sheer turnout means there are probably more Democratic ballots cast here in than in more left-leaning parts of the city, such as Wards 2 and 3 in the Old North End.
"Voting seems to be light in Burlington, even for a primary," Adrian says. "If this election is as close as they're calling it, every vote is going to count."
It wasn't just the governor's race drawing candidates and voters to the polls. The open governor's seat means several down-ticket races are contested this year. Republicans and Democrats both have contested primaries for lieutenant governor and secretary of state. In Chittenden County, seven Democrats running for state Senate are competing for six slots on the November ballot.
In Ward 4, Democratic Secretary of State candidate Jim Condos (pictured) stood outside the Saint Mark's Youth Center working his iPhone, after spending the early morning in Williston. Condos, who's opposed by attorney Charles Merriman, planned to stay in Burlington all day, rather than frantically criss-crossing the county.
"This is where my base is," Condos says. "You can only be in so many places. I'm trying to make it meaningful."
At some polling locations, there were more candidates and campaign workers hanging around than voters. Across North Avenue from the youth center, at the Miller community center in Ward 7, Republican and Democratic candidates greeted voters on their way inside
State Sen. Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden) says she talked with voters who were still undecided in the governor's race. Like many Democratic politicos we encountered, Lyons didn't take sides in the primary and wouldn't reveal who she voted for, or planned to vote for. The five candidates include three of Lyons Senate colleagues: Peter Shumlin, Susan Bartlett and Doug Racine.
"For me, it came down to the person who will best represent the people of Vermont and not their own interests," says Lyons (pictured). "If I could put five votes in, I would."
Come Wednesday, Lyons says it will be crucial for the Democratic winner to meet with the losers and come together for the general election. "That won't be hard," Lyons says. "We've had such a collaborative campaign. Still, it will be devastating to have a loss. I can imagine there are going to be four people tomorrow that are very sad."
Burlington City Councilor Vince Dober (R-Ward 7) stood outside the polls with Angela Changnon (pictured below), a Republican candidate for the statehouse seat held by Democratic Rep. Mark Larson. By 1 p.m., turnout here was around 500 voters, plus around 400 absentee ballots, Dober said, a turnout he called "pretty good."
"With the primary this early, I'm surprised turnout is as high as it is," Dober says. "As long as Brian Dubie wins in November, I don't care what happens today."
While Dober was talking, Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan (pictured below) made a drive-by in a silver Ford sedan, driven by his friend and former deputy Brooks McArthur, a Burlington defense attorney. Donovan is on the ballot but is unopposed in the Democratic primary. He wouldn't a guess on the outcome of the governor's race, but said he "heard poltical experts on the radio" predict it would be Shumlin or Markowitz.
Meanwhile, back in Adrian's car, his kids started plastering the windows with Markowitz fliers and shouting at voters passing by to "Vote for Deb!!" (video below)
At the Ward 6 polling location, at Edmunds Middle School, state Rep. Suzi Wizowaty vented frustration about what she saw as a poor turnout.
"It's pathetic," said Wizowaty, who's backing Doug Racine. "What can we do to make people vote? I can only guess that people don't think it matters."
Inside the middle school, poll workers said around 530 people had voted by 2 p.m. — about average, according to Burlington politicos milling about.
Like other Democrats, Wizowaty (pictured at left) pledged her support to whoever wins today's primary, but added, "There will be some biting of tongues and taking a deep breath."
Finally, I met one Alex Kasper (pictured at right) a recent college graduate from Richmond wearing an "I'm With Deb" tee-shirt. Kasper says he signed up as an intern with the Markowitz campaign, in part, because he couldn't find a job.
He's spent all day at the polling site and changed at least one mind: a fortysomething woman coming to vote was undecided. She asked about Markowitz's health care policy and Kasper laid it out in four minutes. It worked like a charm.
"She went in and voted for Deb," Kasper says.