Windham District Senators defend seats
WINDHAM COUNTY — Preliminary results showed a majority of voters, who were participating at high levels for a midterm election, wanted to keep the county's two state senators in office.
Tyler Colford, who ran as a Republican against Windham County's incumbent Democratic senators Jeanette White and Becca Balint, said he will run again in 2020.
"It's definitely been a learning experience," the Jacksonville resident and rapper said. "I didn't really know what to expect when I was getting into this. I've just been taking notes. I have a couple organizations that are interested in me now."
Colford said he had seen his campaign signs out in yards around the county.
"I know it doesn't really indicate much but I've seen my signs out much more than other candidates," he said.
Colford spent part of Election Day in his hometown, where he said he felt he had a lot of support. There, he ended up getting 239 votes to Balint's 187 and White's 189.
In Brattleboro, Colford had 684 votes to Balint's 3,868 and White's 3,293. In Rockingham, he had 402 votes to Balint's 1005 and White's 998. By 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, with 11 of 24 districts reporting, unofficial results showed Colford had 12.56 percent of the vote. Balint had 36.47 percent and White had 32.54 percent.
Colford had been planning to stay in his apartment and watch the results come in. He had to go to work as a machinist at GS Precision in the morning.
Sen. Becca Balint, D-Windham, was planning to watch the results at McNeill's Brewery downtown, hopeful that Democrat Sara Coffey would take the House seat vacated by the Republican Mike Hebert. Balint was in Bellows Falls on Monday campaigning with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquist. Balint had been to Guilford and Vernon on Tuesday to support Coffey.
"What I've noticed being out today is the turnout seems really, really good, much higher than past years than I could recall," Balint said. "Steady streams of people coming into the polls. People seem excited that there's a big turnout in person today but also in early voting."
Balint said people are feeling anxious and voting is one way they can show their belief that things can improve and their desire to make change.
"These times can bring people to a dark and jaded place but what I've seen locally is people engaged with candidates and wanting to see change," she said.
Balint said the Legislature had come up with ways to make it easier for people to vote. She said the Vermont Secretary of State's Office reported 92.5 percent of people eligible to vote in Vermont are registered to vote.
Balint welcomed the challenge from a Republican, looking at it as a healthy sign of democracy because people are running with different ideas. But they also share concerns related to things like health care costs and poverty, she said.
Balint said she feels like the work she is doing is on behalf of all her constituents, not just those on the left.
"I love Election Day," she said. "It's one of my favorite days of the year."
White could not be reached by press time.
Margaret Bober of Brattleboro said the Senate race was not "huge" this year. It was "more routine," she said.
Her biggest reason for coming out was the governor's race. She considers herself a Democrat but voted for incumbent Republican Gov. Phil Scott.
"I feel he is the best person for the job," Bober said.
The governor's race was most important to Edmund Maloney as well. He said he has voted in every election since he moved to Brattleboro 16 years ago.
"It's my duty as a citizen," he said.
Maloney said he was sort of interested in the Senate race but claimed to not know much about it.
"I won't say anything more," he said. "I don't want to get in trouble with the powers that be."
Brattleboro Town Clerk Hilary Francis said early voting turnout has been the highest for a midterm election going back as far as she has seen in recent records. She ran out of "I voted early" stickers on Saturday.
"We're in presidential turnout," she said.
Although early voting numbers did not reach as high as those in 2016 election, they had surpassed those in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected.
Francis saw 385 residents vote Monday in her office. She called Tuesday's turnout "steady."
"We haven't had any lulls," she said. "We had 50 voters in the first 15 minutes."
Francis said two spare voting booths have been used all day and pens have been running out. She described the governor's race as probably the most contested race, "at least here."
"I think others are important but that's really drawing people," she said. "I think in general people are saying this is a big election. Whether it's an issue or a party, people are feeling a need to vote."
Francis reported meeting 18-year-olds and residents in their 80s voting for their first time. She said the American Legion Brattleboro Post 5 downtown had been selected for its accessibility. Pedestrians and cyclists could get there easier than other venues considered.
Elliott Greenblott, chairman of the Brattleboro Board of Civil Authority, said this election was "crazy."
"Great turnout today and for early voting," he said.
Greenblott has been a justice of the peace since 1990. This midterm election has been his biggest, "no question," he said. He attributed large participation on "a cruddy day" not to the races on the ballot but the atmosphere - "the need to get out and vote and demonstrate people's faith in democracy."
"It's rewarding to see people expressing their faith in the system," he said, noting there had been a line at the door at 7 a.m. when polls opened. "This is absolutely phenomenal."
Stephanie Bonin, executive director of the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance, said businesses rewarded "the behavior of voting" Tuesday. Those who showed their "I Voted" sticker received snacks, products or discounts at the Brattleboro Food Co-Op, Boomerang, Duo Restaurant, Superfresh Organic Cafe, Everyone's Books, Altiplano, Tavernier Chocolates and Windham Movement Apparel.
Residents in the Connecticut River Valley towns had a one-word answer to why they were voting in the pouring rain: Trump. Aside from the statewide races for governor and other constitutional offices, there was only one House race in the entire county, which is overwhelmingly Democratic.
Town clerks throughout Windham County nonetheless reported heavy voter turnout, on top of a record number of early or absentee voters.
In one of the bluest towns in a blue Vermont, getting a place to park in Putney to go in to vote was a problem — with people circling the muddy parking lot at the Putney Central School and finally giving up.
"What time do the polls close?" one woman asked. "I'll be back before 7."
Putney Town Clerk Jonathan Johnson said turnout was heavy and early voting was even heavier, driving the percentage of Putney residents who would cast a ballot.
Johnson said there were 1,780 people on the voter checklist in Putney, and by mid-afternoon, 822 had voted.
"That's approaching 40 percent already," said Johnson, as more people lined up to give their names and take a ballot
Putney wasn't alone with having too many voters and not enough parking spaces.
Residents vote in the basement of the Dummerston Congregational Church and by mid-afternoon, the number of voters was large and steady. And there wasn't a vacant spot in the parking lot and cars lined the road.
Dummerston Town Clerk Laurie Frechette said the early voters for the general election did not match the intensity of the early primary voters of August, when Dummerston voters had an intense three-way race for Windham-4 House district..
In Rockingham, Town Clerk Kathleen Neathawk said voters were lined up at the door at the Masonic Temple Tuesday morning, and down the sidewalk.
In Rockingham, the polls opened at 9 a.m., and Neathawk said the demand was so strong in the early part of the day that the town was "seriously thinking of opening at 8 a.m." during future elections.
By state law, all voting districts have to close at 7 p.m., she said, while the hour of opening is left up to the community.
"In the first 45 minutes, we did 100 ballots," said Paul Obuchowski, a longtime poll worker.
Neathawk said there were 346 absentee or early votes this year, but she said she didn't think it was as many as the 2016 presidential election.
A little after 1 p.m. more than 940 voters had cast ballots, she said.
In Westminster, a balky vote tabulator quickly created a line of patient voters.
Town Clerk Ali Bigwood and Assistant Town Clerk Patty Mark quickly got to work on the machine, which kept spitting out the individual paper ballot.
After emptying the machine of some ballots, which were then quickly locked up in a ballot bag, the machine resumed accepting the ballots, and the line kept moving.
Earlier in the day, Bigwood said the line to vote was out the door and reached Route 5 outside the Westminster Institute.
In Dummerston, voting was as American as apple pie. The spicy and sweet smell of apples permeated the polling place.
Voters had a chance to buy a homemade apple pie, or just a slice, after they voted, thanks to the members of the Dummerston Congregational Church.
It was real apple pie by the slice or whole pie. With Grafton cheddar cheese, Frechette noted.
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at email@example.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
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