June 19, 2018

Democrats dominate at Williston, state polls

Voters cast their ballots in the Armory on Nov. 6. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

At 7 p.m. on Election Day, after 12 solid hours of greeting voters outside the Williston Armory, Vermont House of Representatives candidates Terry Macaig, Jim McCullough, Jay Michaud and Tom Nelson stepped inside the Armory vestibule to warm their hands and await the results of the 2012 election.

Farther inside, Town Clerk Deb Beckett was watching Williston’s three voting machines spool out the thin strips of computer paper that would tell the tale of Willistonians’ political preferences.

As the candidates waited, smartphones reported what political pundits had long predicted: Vermont had been called for President Barack Obama by the major national news networks.

At long last, Beckett emerged and taped the three printouts to the Armory’s inner doors.

The Observer was given the honor of reporting the results to the candidates and the handful of residents and media personnel present.

The first printout read: Macaig, 738; McCullough, 854; Michaud, 543; Nelson, 555. The second: Macaig, 881; McCullough, 975; Michaud, 615; Nelson, 585. The third: Macaig, 885; McCullough, 1,026; Michaud, 752; Nelson, 721.

Some quick arithmetic revealed the final results: Democratic incumbents McCullough and Macaig had retained their seats with 2,855 and 2,504 votes, respectively. Republican challengers Michaud and Nelson finished with respective vote totals of 1,910 and 1,861.

“Good race,” Michaud said as he shook Macaig’s hand.

“Good race,” Macaig responded. “We kept to the issues.”

Later that evening, as presidential battleground states remained colorless on the electoral map, other Vermont elections were overwhelmingly called for Democrats.

Democratic winners included Peter Shumlin for governor, Peter Welch for U.S. representative, Bill Sorrell for attorney general and Jim Condos for secretary of state.

Independent U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders scored a resounding victory over Republican candidate John MacGovern.

Republican Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott defeated Democratic/Progressive challenger Cass Gekas, who at 30 years old was the Vermont campaign season’s youngest major-party candidate.

At 11:18 p.m., CNN announced a projected Obama victory in the presidential election. At approximately the same time, CBS and NBC also called the race for Obama. ABC followed suit at 11:25 p.m.

At 12:43 the next morning, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney formally announced that he had conceded the presidential race; Obama had won his second term as the nation’s 44th president.

By that time, little had changed in the Vermont political landscape, with several races too close to call.

But the unofficial Williston results were unofficially decisive, with a majority of Williston voters concurring with the selections of Shumlin, Welch, Sorrell, Condos, Sanders and Scott.

There were 14 Chittenden Senate District candidates vying for six seats. Among Williston voters, the top six finishers (in order of votes received) were Democrat Ginny Lyons of Williston, Republican Diane Snelling of Hinesburg, Democrat/Progressive Tim Ashe of Burlington, Democrat Sally Fox of South Burlington, Democrat Debbie Ingram of Williston and Democrat Philip Baruth of Burlington.

As of Observer press time on Wednesday, Lyons also led at the district-wide level with 16 of 29 precincts reporting, according to the Vermont Secretary of State website. She was followed by Ashe, Snelling, Fox, Democrat/Progressive David Zuckerman of Hinesburg and Baruth. Ingram was in seventh place, trailing Baruth by just less than 4,000 votes.

Ingram told the Observer in a Wednesday interview that she had conceded the race.

In the final tally, 5,155 of Williston’s 8,012 registered voters cast ballots.

The Observer conducted random exit polling on Election Day from 4:30 p.m. onward. A large variety of political opinions were expressed, from a woman who voted “straight Republican and Independent … any candidate that does not hold a Progressive platform,” to David Barrett, a registered Republican who decided to give President Obama another chance because the economic crisis he inherited was “just too much to fix in one term.”

Steve Curtis cast a confident vote for Obama, although he said he was “really torn” in the gubernatorial race between Shumlin and Brock. He ultimately flipped a coin.

Then there were the passing fragments of conversation from persons identifiable only as registered Williston voters.

“It’s the moment of truth,” explained a mother to her son as she entered the Armory.

“All right, we did our duty,” said a father to his son as he carried him on his shoulders while exiting the polls.

“There’s something about it,” a man commented to an acquaintance. “You just feel better after voting.”

Election official Bill Skiff, a longtime Willistonian, gave his unvarnished opinion of the Election Day 2012 experience in Williston as he made his way to a corner of the Armory to count write-in votes.

“I was here at 6:30 in the morning and there was a huge line already,” Skiff said. “It’s great to see. That’s what freedom’s all about.”

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