Voters get a jump on primary election

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

With mail-in voting at record numbers, the majority of votes are already cast for next week’s statewide party primary elections.

But a traditional polling place is still an indispensible part of the election. In-person voting is scheduled from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 11 at the National Guard Armory at 7846 Williston Rd., under public health mandates and restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. 

As of Monday, roughly 1,800 ballots had been filled out and returned to the town offices in Williston, Town Clerk Sarah Mason said. That is more than the entire turnout of the last primary election in 2018, when 1,683 Williston residents voted. That year, 310 absentee ballots were cast. 

The addition this year of a postcard sent to all of Williston’s roughly 8,000 registered voters with instructions how to request an absentee ballot has driven the rise in voting by mail. For the general election in November, ballots will be automatically mailed to all voters, without the need to make a request. Postage is covered by the Secretary of State’s office.

“Voting by mail is making it easier for people and proving that participation goes through the roof,” Mason said. “It has just been extraordinary.”

The pandemic was the impetus for expanding voting by mail, to reduce the number of people gathering at in-person polling places. On Tuesday, voters will be required to wear masks, and no more than 20 voters will be allowed in the armory at a time. Voters are asked to bring their own pens and maintain 6 feet of physical distance from others — and to not come in if feeling ill. Voters will enter at the front of the building and exit at the back to maintain a one-way flow of traffic.

Mailed ballots can be turned in by 7 p.m. Tuesday at the armory.

“We are not denying anyone their right to go to a polling place,” said Mason. 

She said the group of election volunteers is entirely new; older, experienced election workers opted out due to concerns about coronavirus exposure. 

The roughly 1,800 ballots already mailed in will be combined with ballots cast on election day for counting, with results expected by Tuesday night. 

Voters are able to choose one of three party primaries to participate in by choosing to vote one of the three available ballots: Democrat, Republican or Progressive. Nominations for the general election in the statewide offices of governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, secretary of state, auditor and attorney general will be determined. Also, nominations for state representative in Williston and state senator in Chittenden County are up for grabs, as well as Vermont representative to the U.S. Congress.