Westminster poll info corrected

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WESTMINSTER — Everybody knows that Westminster residents vote at the Westminster Institute.

Don't they?

Not the people at the Vermont Secretary of State's office, which until a week or so ago had the wrong polling place for the town — information which in turn was picked up by national get-out-the-vote organizations.

Will Senning, director of elections for the Vermont Secretary of State's office, said Monday the error was pointed out to his office about 10 days ago and was immediately corrected.

But that came after national organizations, such as vote.org and CNN, took the Vermont information off the secretary of state's website, which included the wrong Westminster polling location.

Westminster resident David Mulholland caught the problem and brought it to the attention of the town, the state and local political leaders.

Mulholland said Monday he was on the CNN website and clicked on a link to Vermont poll information.

Mulholland said he knew perfectly well that Westminster residents voted at the Institute, which is located on Route 5, a short distance from the town hall. It also contains the town library.

So he said he was very surprised when he clicked and saw that, according to CNN and vote.org, voting took place at the Westminster School, not the institute building.

The wrong location can be traced back to the August 2016 primary, when the polling place had to be moved to the school because the elevator in the institute building wasn't working, said Town Clerk Alo Bigwood.

Bigwood said she had only been town clerk since 2014, but voting has been at the institute building for as long as she could remember.

"One time we had to move it to the school because the Institute's elevator was broken," she said. Voting returned to the institute for the 2016 general elect.

Westminster's town meeting is held at the Bellows Falls Union High School, she noted.

Bigwood said her office noticed the polling problem before the August 2018 primary and notified the secretary of state's office. But somehow the correction didn't get made.

Senning said it appeared that vote.org and CNN downloaded the Vermont poll information earlier and didn't update it, which in his mind raises questions about the accuracy of those large, national get-out-the-vote databases.

"I tell them repeatedly to check back, to review it," said Senning. As far as Senning has been able to determine, Westminster is the only town that needed its polling place corrected.

He said Vermont has just under 300 different polling places, as some of the 246 Vermont towns have more than one polling location.

He said his office regularly sends emails to all Vermont town clerks to read through the information on the state's website pertaining to their town and verify it.

Mulholland said he knew where the polling place was, but was concerned about new voters or people who haven't voted in a while.

"I contacted everybody I could on the weekend," said Mulholland, who has been voting in Westminster for more than 20 years. "Somebody in authority should know about this. If new people to the community had seen that link or gone to the website, it was not going to work for them."

"I just wanted to get the word out where the true polling place is," he said.

As for who was responsible for the mistake, Mulholland said he doesn't care.

"I don't have enough fingers to point at everybody," he said. "Real people need real information."

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 154.

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