Presidential race attracts excited electorate11/6/08

Nov. 6, 2008

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Voters began lining up around dawn, forming a queue that snaked from the Williston Armory to a sidewalk along U.S. 2, near a forest of campaign signs.


    Observer photo by Karen Pike
Voters line up before 7 a.m. outside the Williston Armory on Election Day.

When the doors swung open at 7 a.m., the crowd of about 200 people poured into the polling place and fanned out to dozens of voting booths. Within 45 minutes, 400 ballots had been recorded, said Town Clerk Deb Beckett.

So began Election Day 2008, when a highly anticipated presidential contest and a long list of state races produced crowds eager to exercise their rights as citizens.

“It was really upbeat, energized atmosphere, and it has been all day,” Beckett said Tuesday afternoon. In contrast to some elections, “it just seemed people were livelier, and they were enjoying the atmosphere and kind of feeding off the excitement of each other.”

The early rush at the polls tapered off later in the day, resulting in a surprisingly small turnout percentage in Williston but a record for the total votes due to hundreds of new registrations. Seventy-one percent of the town’s registered voters cast ballots, several points lower than the 2004 and 2000 elections.

The presidential contest between Barack Obama and John McCain was the headline race for voters. Some residents said they were also motivated by a desire to sweep out incumbents and bring in new political leadership.


    Observer photo by Karen Pike
Williston Boy Scouts Ethan Padgett (front), 9, and Chris O’Brien, 10, help Town Clerk Deb Beckett set up the town polling station at the Armory on Monday.

John Peckham said he was tired of the “old guard Republicans” and so voted for Obama. He also voted for independent gubernatorial candidate Anthony Pollina, citing his displeasure with how Republican incumbent Gov. Jim Douglas has handled problems at Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

“Now is the time for something a little different, I think,” Peckham said.

Obama and Pollina also stood out for Pam Barden. She liked Obama’s stance on education issues.

“He’s an agent for change,” she said.

Dawn Richardson, who said she usually votes for Republicans, took a long look at both candidates before making her decision. She said she was undecided up until Monday night.

“I had to go with change, honestly,” Richardson said of her vote for Obama.

Not all Williston voters were adamant about change. Judy Charles, for example, supported a mix of incumbents and newcomers from both parties. She voted for Obama for president, Douglas for governor and Democrat Terry Macaig for the Vermont House.

“I usually make it a point to be involved and vote for the person who is best according to my views,” she said. “I vote for the person, not the party.”

Ralph McGregor was one of the few voters interviewed who did not support Obama. He said the Democrat’s association with the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright and other issues convinced him to vote for McCain.

“I’m scared to death of Obama,” McGregor said. “I think our country is gone if we elect him.”

Unseasonably warm, mostly sunny weather helped attract crowds to the polls. Traffic backed up along U.S. 2 at times as voters tried to get in and out of the parking lot between the Armory and Town Hall. With extra election workers on hand, voters found a crowded but orderly polling place.

In all, 5,246 of Williston’s 7,374 registered voters participated in election. Though the turnout was not a record, the number of votes cast before Election Day shattered the previous high.

Exactly 2,400 people cast ballots before Tuesday, nearly a third of the town’s registered voters. The tally more than doubled the previous record for early and absentee ballots.

“I just wanted to avoid the crowds, basically,” said Ann Hazelrigg, who filled out her ballot at Town Hall on Monday morning.

Hazelrigg said she appreciated the convenience but missed the camaraderie of voting alongside other residents.

One of the last people to vote in Williston on Tuesday was Eileen Sinopoli, who showed up at 6:45 p.m., 15 minutes before the polls closed. She said she was trying to set an example for her 6-year-old son, Jack, who munched on a hot dog while he waited for his mom.

“It’s really important, especially to my kids, to be able to say I voted,” she said.

Observer staff writer Tim Simard contributed to this story.