BRATTLEBORO -- Town clerks are predicting high voter turnout for today's general election, largely due to a tight presidential race.
But a huge early-voting response -- with ballots pouring in since late September -- may thin the crowds at polling places around the region.
Dummerston Town Clerk Pam McFadden is just one clerk who's had her hands full with large numbers of voters: As of 1 p.m. Monday, 363 of the town's 1,663 voters (nearly 22 percent) already had cast ballots.
"If I have a few hundred less people coming (to polls today), hopefully the wait won't be long," McFadden said as she helped set up voting equipment in the basement of Dummerston Congregational Church.
The ease of early voting in Vermont, coupled with the lure of a presidential campaign, has led large numbers of residents to stop by their town offices and cast ballots prior to Election Day.
That steady stream continued in the past few days. Brattleboro's town office was packed with voters Monday, and Town Clerk Annette Cappy noted that the office had been open for three hours on Saturday.
"In those three hours, we had 120 voters," Cappy said.
All told, she expected about 2,200 people -- a quarter of the town's voters -- to cast early ballots.
"That's all we've been dealing with," Cappy said.
In Newfane, there were 184 total votes cast in the Aug. 28 primary.
For the general election, "we now have close to 300 early voters where I've either mailed them a ballot or they've come to the office to vote," Town Clerk Gloria Cristelli said.
She said early voting has become more popular due to widespread exposure in the media. It's a matter of convenience for some and necessity for others: Cristelli noted that one voter who stopped by on Monday said she had to attend funeral services today.
Early voting "does take a significant amount of a town clerk's time," Cristelli said. "But it also gives so many more people an opportunity to vote."
That was the case for Erlene Shannon. The Newfane resident expected to be out of town for part of the day today, so it eased her mind to cast a ballot Monday at the town office.
"This election is important to me," Shannon said. "And I didn't want to miss the opportunity to vote."
Some clerks, however, have been forced to turn away numerous residents who have tried to register to vote after the state's Oct. 31 deadline passed.
"I've had a lot of people come in (over the past several days) and ask if they can register to vote," Rockingham Town Clerk Doreen Aldrich said Monday. "We tell them, ‘Yes, you can, but you can't vote in this election.
The Obama-vs.-Romney presidential ballot is driving much of that interest. But there also are several statewide races including campaigns for governor, lieutenant governor, auditor, treasurer and attorney general.
Today's ballot also features one of Vermont's U.S. Senate seats along with its sole U.S. House seat.
Most of the Windham County area's state legislators are unopposed.
But the Windham-Bennington-Windsor state House seat features two non-incumbent independents. And there are Liberty Union candidates opposing Democrats for Windham state Senate, Brattleboro District 3 state House and Windham 4 state House.
Town clerks expect that, in spite of the rush of early voters, there will be plenty of residents showing up today to cast ballots in those races and others.
"If the weather stays nice, I'm sure we'll have a good turnout," Aldrich said. "You've got die-hards who just love to come to the polls, which is nice."
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.