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Liveblog For Vermont's 2020 Primary Election

A woman talks through a clear vinyl barrier to a poll worker in a room with an American flag.
Elodie Reed
/
VPR File
Laura Thomason drops off an absentee ballot at Bakersfield Town Hall on Tuesday, Aug. 11. Poll workers sat behind wood-and-vinyl enclosures built by select board member Joss Goss, and round rubber disks helped voters keep their distance.

Vermont's Primary Day took place on Tuesday, Aug. 11, and this year, things looked a little different. Though polling places across the state opened for business, residents were encouraged by the Vermont Secretary of State's office to vote absentee.

Turnout was expected to be high, with contested statewide races in each primary plus more Vermonters requesting absentee ballots than voted overall in the 2016 primary, which set a record for voter turnout.

Scroll down for on-the-ground reports from VPR staff.

Looking for statewide results? Head here.

Wednesday

2:48 p.m.

Several Vermont house candidates endorsed by the Progressive Party picked up wins in last night’s Democratic primary.

State election laws only allow candidates to run on one party ballot, so most Progressive candidates chose to run in the larger Democratic Primary.

Josh Wronksi, executive director of the Vermont Progressive Party, says one big win came in the Burlington 6-2 district, where the incumbent Democrat, Jean O’Sullivan, was beat by progressive challenger Emma Mulvaney-Stanak.

A woman in a face mask holding a campaign sign.
Credit Abagael Giles / VPR
Emma Mulvaney-Stanak outside the Burlington Ward 3 polls on Tuesday.

“Anytime you knock someone off in a Democratic primary, that’s a big deal,” he said. “Knocking off an incumbent, that’s a big deal and doesn’t happen very frequently.”

Wronski says the four Progressive incumbents in the House won their primaries last night, and unofficial results indicate five new Progressive candidates won races.

- Liam Elder-Connors

1:45 p.m.

Gov. Phil Scott easily won the Republican gubernatorial primary Tuesday, with 72% of the vote.

Scott, who’s running for his third term in office, has received bipartisan praise and strong public support for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a video post last night, Scott said he’s running again for the same reasons he first ran for governor four years ago.

“I knew we needed someone to focus like a laser on growing the economy, making Vermont more affordable, protecting the most vulnerable and restoring civility and decency to our politics by running campaigns and governing in ways that are positive examples for our kids,” he said.

Scott will face Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, in the general election.

- Liam Elder-Connors 

12:05 p.m.

In addition to results continuing to come in, so too do reports of the *creative* ways Vermonters got out to vote.

12 p.m.

Perennial candidate Cris Ericson appears to have won several nominations on the Progressive primary ballot and is currently ahead in race for the gubernatorial nomination.

Ericson, who's run unsuccessfully for nearly every statewide office since 2002, was running seven offices on the Progressive ballot.

Ericson is currently leading in the governor's race, though it appears there are still write-in votes to be counted.

The Progressive Party had been encouraging its members to write-in David Zuckerman in the governor's race instead of Ericson. Zuckerman won the Democratic primary on Tuesday.

Josh Wronski, the executive director of the Progressive Party, told VPR last month the party didn’t support Ericson and would likely issue a non-endorsement if she won the gubernatorial nomination.

Unofficial results from the secretary of state indicated Ericson won the Progressive nomination for lieutenant governor, state auditor, attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state.

- Liam Elder-Connors

11:30 a.m.

State Auditor Doug Hoffer defeated challenger Linda Joy Sullivan in the Democratic primary. Hoffer received 52% of the vote to Sullivan’s 35%.

Attorney General TJ Donovan, Secretary of State Jim Condos and State Treasurer Beth Pearce each ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and won.

H. Brooke Paige won the Republican primary for attorney general and secretary of state. Carolyn Whitney Branagan won the Republican primary for state treasurer.

- Liam Elder-Connors 

11:05 a.m.

The four Democratic incumbents running in the crowded state Senate race in Chittenden County held onto their seats.

Ginny Lyons, Michael Sirotkin and Phil Baruth all won their nominations by a decent margin – Chris Pearson managed to win his nomination by about 30 votes.

Former state representative Kesha Ram and South Burlington City Councilor Thomas Chittenden were also nominated. Ram was the second highest vote-getter among the candidates, with Lyons, an incumbent, getting the most.

The six Democrats will face off against Republican candidates Ericka Redic and Tom Chastenay in the November election.

- Liam Elder-Connors

10:49 a.m.

A Winooski candidate for the Vermont House of Representatives is in line to become the state’s first openly transgender lawmaker.

Taylor Small secured the Democratic nomination for one of the two seats in Winooski’s two-member district. Incumbent Hal Colston also won the nomination.

There were no Republicans on the primary ballot for this House race. 

- Liam Elder-Connors

10 a.m.

Vermont has "shattered" the previous record for primary election turnout, according to the Secretary of State's office.

A tweet late Tuesday night from Secretary of State Jim Condos' office did not provide specific numbers but stated that the record has been broken.

The state had historic primary participation in August 2016, when more than 120,000 voters cast a ballot.

Lincoln town clerk Sally Ober told Vermont Edition yesterday that she normally counts about 50 absentee ballots— but not this election.

“So I went from normal being 50, to 463. And that’s like almost a 10-fold increase,” Ober said. “It’s just phenomenal, I had no idea.”

The Secretary of State's office also praised election officials for reporting results on election night without delay despite the enormous surge in mail-in votes.

- Matthew Smith and Sam Gale Rosen 

9:48 a.m.

Molly Gray won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in Tuesday’s primary election.

It was Gray’s first political campaign, and she currently leads Senate president pro tem Tim Ashe by more than 10 points.

“I think it’s a historic campaign, and a historic election with thousands and thousands and thousands of Vermonters requesting absentee ballots, participating in government,” Gray said. “So it’s incredibly exciting and we couldn’t be more proud to play a small part in it.”

Gray is a 36-year-old assistant attorney general, and adjunct professor at Vermont Law School.

Looking for statewide 2020 Vermont Primary results? Head here.

On the Republican side of the lieutenant governor race, Scott Milne received the most votes and will take his third shot at winning a statewide election.

Milne was declared the winner in the five-way race just after 10 p.m. Tuesday.

Milne ran for Governor in 2014, and just barely lost to the incumbent, Peter Shumlin. He also ran for the U.S. Senate in 2016, losing to Patrick Leahy.

The 61-year-old Pomfret businessman is aligning himself with Gov. Phil Scott.

In a press release sent out after his win, Milne said he would use his business experience to help Scott re-open Vermont’s economy.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

7:35 a.m.

Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman won the Democratic nomination for governor in Vermont's primary on Tuesday.

Zuckerman now faces a general election campaign against Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who's won high approval ratings for his handling of COVID-19.

Listen to VPR's Mitch Wertlieb interview David Zuckerman Wednesday morning.

But Zuckerman said the coronavirus pandemic isn't the only issue on voters' minds this year.

"Is there approval for vetoeing the minimum wage, which if he hadn't done so, would've meant many of our essential workers would have over $1,000 more in their pocket right now?" Zuckerman asked Tuesday night.

Zuckerman defeated three other Democratic candidates yesterda, and said he plans to challenge Scott's record on climate change and paid family and medical leave as well.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Tuesday

10:00 p.m.

There are still plenty of races yet to be called.

In the Progressive gubernatorial primary, with 68% districts reporting on the Vermont Secretary of State's website, perennial candidates Cris Ericson and Boots Wardinski are currently in a close race of 176 votes to 165, though there are another 175 write-in votes.

The Progressive Party asked members to write in Democratic gubernatorial candidate (and now nominee) David Zuckerman on the ballot.

- Elodie Reed

9:18 p.m.

The Associated Press calls the Democratic gubernatorial primary for current Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman.

9:15 p.m.

David Zuckerman cooks a chicken.  

9 p.m.

Results continue to trickle in, and the Associated Press calls the GOP gubernatorial primary for Gov. Phil Scott.

8:20 p.m.

The Associated Press calls the Democratic primary for Vermont's U.S. House seat, with seven-term incumbent Peter Welch beating Wallingford resident Ralph "Carcajou" Corbo.

8:15 p.m.

Results from today’s primary election are trickling in, and so far, according to the Associated Press, David Zuckerman leading Rebecca Holcombe in the Democratic gubernatorial race. Zuckerman leads 51% to Holcombe's 39% with just 7% of districts reporting.

Incumbent Gov. Phil Scott is at 73% with over 6% of precincts reporting.  And Republican John Klar is behind Scott with about 22% of the vote. 

Tim Ashe and Molly Gray are close in the race for the Democratic ticket for lieutenant governor, with 43% for Gray, 32% for Ashe, with 9%  of precincts reporting. On the Republican ballot, Scott Milne has 49% of the vote and Meg Hansen has 37%, with 6% precincts reporting.

- Karen Anderson

Find Associated Press results for statewide races here.

6:35 p.m.

More than 200 Bakersfield residents requested absentee ballots for today's primary election according to the town clerk.

But resident Deanna  Walker-Cook was not among them. She said she cast her vote in person to try and get back to a sense of normalcy.

“I'm a school teacher, I work in Colchester, so I know what's coming, masks and everything. But I really miss normal,” she said. “So every little step towards that direction I'm going to take. So yeah, I'm just going to vote regular.”

Bakersfield's town clerk Kathy Westcom says she sent out more ballots by mail this year than she usually receives total for a state primary election.

- Elodie Reed

6:03 p.m.

Voters in Montpelier apparently took advantage of the early voting option and cast their ballots before today's primary election.

City Clerk John Odum said overall turnout will be strong since so many people requested ballots to mail in or drop off.

"I mean, we've got a record amount of already returned early ballots for an August election, so you know we start out the day with pretty strong turnout," he said. But in-person's pretty light."

Odum says Montpelier had four times the number of early ballot requests than for the last August primary. He says election officials in Montpelier should not have a problem tabulating all those returns this evening.  

- John Dillon

5:33 p.m.

Primary Day had quite the exciting start in Lincoln. Town Clerk Sally Ober described to VPR in a message the following events:

At about 615 am we were setting up our polling place under the tent and a young deer ran right past us. It got hung up on the neighbor’s fence across the street. I stopped traffic and helped it find its way around the fence. It ran off toward the church. I also rescued a baby robin in my way to work at 530 am. It was in the middle of creamery street. A toad also hopped past our polling place this morning.

Lincoln was among the towns that opted to hold voting out-of-doors, and under a huge white tent.

A dog under a table.
Credit Sally Ober, Courtesy
More room for people - and dogs - under the white tent that Lincoln set up for Tuesday's state primary.

- Elodie Reed and Matthew Smith

5:20 p.m.

A flood of absentee ballots is straining some town clerk offices in today's primary, and the head of state elections wants to see improvements by November’s presidential election.

More than 153,000 Vermonters requested absentee ballots for the primary, though many opted not to mail in the ballot, but instead, drop it off at their town clerk’s office.

That’s led to concerns ballot drop boxes are too small or too full — and Secretary of State Jim Condos tells Vermont Edition he’s thinking about a change by November.

“We’re actually considering mandating secure drop boxes for the general election, which is, obviously, the ‘big’ election,” Condos said.

Voters have until the polls close tonight at 7 to drop off their absentee ballot at their assigned polling place.

Listen to the full conversation here.

- Matthew Smith

4:08 p.m.

Town Clerk behind Plexiglass shield
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Rockingham Town Clerk Kathleen Neathak works behind a Plexiglass shield during voting at the Bellows Falls Fire Station Tuesday.

Vermonters cast a record number of absentee ballots cast during the 2020 Primary.

With so many people voting by mail during the pandemic, turnout was light at the polls.

But Gary Mosher of Rockingham said he likes to get out and visit the polls on voting day.

"I prefer voting in-person, I always have," Mosher said. "I thought about the absentee, but I says, 'Ah, I'm not absent, am I?'" he told VPR with a laugh. "'You're a regular here. That's right.'"

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

3:51 p.m.

Putney also moved in-person voting outside on Primary Day.

Putney Town Clerk Jonathan Johnson said if the pandemic is still raging in the fall, it will be much harder to pull off outdoor voting during the presidential election.

Driver delivers ballot from car
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
In Putney, voters cast their ballots at the polls via a drive-through voting system.

"You can't do this in November, you know," he said. "You can't have your poll workers sitting outside. so we have to find an inside spot. And if Vermont is more open than it is today, that makes it easier and we'll have to make that decision by the first week of October."

Putney was one of the towns that used drive-by polling, with voters casting their ballots from inside their cars.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

1:35 p.m.

Primary Day voters in Barre City could vote from their cars in a drive-through voting system, set up in the municipal ice rink.

Volunteer Lindo Wentworth said most people seemed pleased with the convenience.

"So they check in here, get the ballots, they park in the middle, and hopefully remember to shut their vehicle off. And then the tabulator table is at the exit door," Wentworth said. "Walkin-ins come in and use our one, constantly sanitized station, and they have to exit that way, too."

Wentworth reported a steady stream of voters taking advantage of the drive-through option.

"So far, we've only gotten yelled at once, and it's been running really smoothly."

She joked that in November, the city may have skate-through voting.

Man wears bandana, stands in front of civic center
Credit John Dillon / VPR
George Spaulding voted in-person at the Barre Civic Center on Tuesday morning.

- John Dillon

11:38 a.m.

What did ballots look like 70 years ago? The Vermont Secretary of State's office shared this image this morning:

According to the Vermont Secretary of State's Office, as of 9:20 a.m. on Primary Day:

  • 153,380 absentee ballots had been requested statewide for the 2020 Vermont Primary
  • 113,739 absentee ballots had been returned

- Abagael Giles

11:27 a.m.

Poll volunteer Kathi Apgar wears mask behind plexiglass barrier inside New Haven Town Hall
Credit Anna Van Dine / VPR
An election volunteer sits at her workstation in the New Haven Town Hall on Vermont's Aug. 2020 Primary Day. Poll workers and voters alike are required to wear masks.

In New Haven, a pollworker monitors the state checklist from behind a Plexiglass barrier installed to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

Those voting in-person this year cast their ballots at the town hall.

Inside the New Haven Town Hall, masks are required and voting stations are spaced to facilitate social distancing.

- Anna Van Dine

9:30 a.m.

In Winooski, election officials saw a quiet start to Primary Day morning at the city senior center.

This year, just over 1,000 Winooski residents voted ahead, using an absentee ballot. Almost 1,300 more people requested absentee ballots in 2020 than in 2018.

Candidates stand outside polling place, with masks
Credit Abagael Giles / VPR
In Winooski, candidates and volunteers lined up with distance, all wearing masks, to thank people for voting.

City Clerk Caroll Barrett said Tuesday that, as of 7:30 a.m., things looked very different at the polls from in years past.

"It's very quiet," Barrett said. "We've probably had 12 people so far. On Election Day, usually there is a line out here, first thing in the morning."

Barrett said that though a few volunteers stayed home this year, she has plenty of help overall.

"Obviously, this year, we have masks and hand sanitizer. We have Plexiglass shields to protect our election officials. We have a gentleman who is sanitizing every time a voter leaves the booth," Barrett said.

Volunteer wearing a mask and colorful shirt sits behind plexiglass barrier at a table
Credit Abagael Giles / VPR
Katherine Picard has been an election volunteer for the City of Winooski for more than 25 years. Here she sits Tuesday, behind a Plexiglass barrier, ready to greet voters and check their names against the state checklist.

Katherine Picard has been a poll volunteer for 25 years. She oversees the voter checklist for Winooski. She said that for her, the importance of having veteran pollworkers this election outweighed the risk.

"It's what I do," she said with a laugh. "I love helping my community, being here for people, and I just think we make sure we take extra precautions."

- Abagael Giles

Monday

4:30 p.m.

What to expect if you go to a polling place Tuesday

All of Vermont's 275 polling stations will be open Tuesday, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

But Secretary of State Jim Condos says the voting process won't look the same.

Some towns have moved their polling stations to larger buildings this year so they can adhere to physical distancing protocols, and some towns will even offer drive-through voting options.

Condos said voters should also bring their own pens if they're able to do so, to limit the potential spread of COVID-19.

As of Monday afternoon, 152,000 residents had requested mail-in ballots this year. Condos said that as of Monday, only 107,000 ballots had been received by town clerks, leaving about 45,000 to still be returned Tuesday to polling places across the state.

"The clerk needs to have the voter's ballot in hand by 7 p.m. when the polls close in order for their vote to count," Condos said.

He said the high-volume of mail-in voting this year means traffic will probably be light at polling stations on Tuesday. And he said town clerks will be enforcing public health guidelines, such as mask wearing and physical distancing, to make in-person voting as safe as possible.

"I want to be very clear," Condos said Monday, "The polls will be open tomorrow as usual for every voter who needs to vote, whether they're returning a ballot they already have, or whether they are voting in person."

For a list of polling places, head here.

- Peter Hirschfeld

4:10 p.m.

Vermont’s 2020 primary election is on Tuesday, Aug. 11, and early voting began in June. Wondering what to do with that absentee ballot you still have? Who the candidates are? Check out our last-minute voter guide.

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