Incumbents prevail in state, local primaries (Sept., 11, 2008)

Williston reports tiny 4 percent turnout

Sept. 11, 2008
By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Voters chose incumbents over challengers for the Vermont Senate, one of the few contested races in Tuesday’s lightly attended primary.

Just 4 percent of Williston’s 7,056 registered voters cast ballots. The 293 votes was the smallest total in years, perhaps decades. Statewide, the turnout was also sparse.


    Observer photo by Greg Duggan
Rev. Joan O’Gorman, the minister at Williston Federated Church, checks in to collect her ballot from poll worker Bob Genock at the Williston Armory on Tuesday. Just before 4 p.m., O’Gorman became the 200th voter to cast a ballot in Williston in the statewide primary. Low turnout was a trend throughout Vermont.

“This is the lowest turnout of any election I can recall,” said Williston Town Clerk Deb Beckett, who has held the position for nearly a decade.

Calling the primary “just a waste,” Beckett noted that most of the 2,000 ballots printed for each party in Williston would be thrown out.

The election cost local taxpayers between $1,000 and $1,100. She said such a lightly attended primary perhaps indicates it is time to move toward party caucuses to choose candidates.

The few Williston voters who did show up to choose Republican, Progressive or Liberty Union ballots found no contested races. Democrats had more options, with races for the U.S. House, lieutenant governor, high bailiff and state senate.

Just 66 voters took Republican ballots. Five filled out a Progressive Party ballot and none chose a Liberty Union ballot. The remaining 222 voters cast Democratic ballots.

The most notable contest was a nine-candidate scrum for Chittenden County’s six seats in the Vermont Senate. Both in Williston and throughout the county, voters mainly picked incumbents.


    Observer photo by Greg Duggan
A lone voter fills out a ballot at Williston’s polling station shortly before 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

On the Democratic side, Williston resident Ginny Lyons, an incumbent, garnered the most support here with 182 votes. The other top vote-getters locally were, in descending order, Doug Racine of Richmond, Ed Flanagan of Burlington, Tim Palmer of Williston, Hinda Miller of Burlington and Denise Barnard of Richmond.

Countywide, the four incumbents — Racine, Flanagan, Miller and Lyons — along with Barnard appeared to be the top vote-getters, according to partial results reported by the Associated Press. Palmer was trailing Tim Ashe by 16 ballots. But those numbers did not include ballots cast in Burlington, which had not reported results by Wednesday morning.

The county’s remaining incumbent senator, Diane Snelling of Hinesburg, was the lone candidate listed on the Republican ballot. The GOP, however, mounted a last-minute write-in campaign. In Williston and elsewhere, five other Republicans — Agnes Clift, Darren Adams, Dennis Bedard, Robyn Myers Moore and Paula Spadaccini — received write-in votes.

Williston voters resoundingly picked incumbent U.S. Sen. Peter Welch over challenger Craig Hill. The tally was 193-19. The Associated Press had Welch winning by a similarly large margin in the statewide vote.

Local voters chose Thomas Costello over Nate Freeman for lieutenant governor and Daniel Gamelin over Loyal Ploof for high bailiff. Costello also won the statewide vote, according to the AP.

Also on both the Republican and Democratic ballots were candidates for Williston’s seats in the state House of Representatives. But because there were only two candidates on each party’s ballot and Williston has a two-seat district, there was no real choice.

Democrat Jim McCullough, the only incumbent in the House race, received 183 votes, the most among the four candidates.

Editor Greg Duggan contributed to this story.

Local results

Here are the tallies for ballots cast in Williston for primary candidates. State and county results were unavailable by press deadline. Only the contested races, all of which were on the Democratic ballot, are listed:

Craig Hill        19
Peter Welch        193

Thomas Costello    116
Nate Freeman        65

Tim Ashe        88
Denise Barnard    116
Edward Flanagan    151
Ginny Lyons        182
Dennis McMahon    39
Hinda Miller        118
Tim Palmer        129
Doug Racine        171
Sean Starfighter    21

Daniel Gamelin    76
Loyal Ploof        58