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Olga Peters/The Commons

Campaign signs are lined up on the green across from the polling place in Dummerston Center.

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Record-busting election keeps new town clerks on their toes

BRATTLEBORO—With the sun shining brightly for the Nov. 8 general election, voters in Brattleboro, Dummerston, and Vernon arrived in steady numbers to cast ballots.

The pace remained constant in the three towns despite Brattleboro and Vernon having already broken their early voting records.

Before voting had even started on Election Day proper, 39 percent — 3,387 people — of Brattleboro’s registered voters had cast ballots, said Town Clerk Annette Cappy.

This early turnout busted the town’s previous early voting record of 2,600 people.

Approximately 40 people were waiting to vote when Cappy and fellow poll workers opened the doors at the VFW on Black Mountain Road at 7:30 a.m.

In Dummerston, Town Clerk Laurie Frechette said the town traditionally has high voter participation. On Tuesday, she said that 27 percent of the registered voters had voted early. Frechette wasn’t sure if early voting this year beat previous years.

Dummerston also had people waiting when the polls opened.

By 4 p.m., Vernon had broken its overall voting record of 913. Town Clerk Tim Arsenault said 20 percent — 370 people — of the registered voters cast early ballots this election.

General elections often have higher voter turnout, Cappy said. Election watchers expected this year’s race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump to spur above-average voting, she added.

Security concerns

Security discussions were part of Cappy’s election prep this year — a first for her, she said.

After receiving reports that Trump supporters might stage a protest at polling stations, Cappy said, she discussed the issue with local law enforcement. As of Tuesday afternoon, however, Cappy said no one — from any party — had disrupted the polls.

High turnout and security concerns were not the only challenges for town clerks Tuesday.

New town clerks were experiencing their first general election in Dummerston and Vernon.

In Brattleboro, Hilary Francis will start full time as the new town clerk. On Tuesday, Francis helped Cappy conduct her final general election after more than 20 years as town clerk.

Francis, who hails from the private sector, said she loves working on elections and that she feels excited to start working in Brattleboro and giving back to the community. She said she has never worked as a town clerk or in municipal government.

Frechette expressed gratitude for the approximately 20 “awesome” volunteers working the polls in Dummerston.

She is new to the town clerk’s job but previously served as town treasurer, an assistant town clerk, and Selectboard assistant. The first election she ran this year was the primary in August.

Frechette said her heart was in her throat five minutes before the polls opened on Tuesday, when the town’s electronic ballot tabulator “didn’t want to work.”

Thankfully, she said, her predecessor, Pamela McFadden, and Frechette’s husband Dennis fixed the machine in time for the first voter.

Mostly smooth sailing

One man arrived with proof he registered to vote in Vernon five years ago. His name, however, was not on the voter checklist.

Arsenault, who began as town clerk in March, checked the man’s name against the state’s list. Yes, he was registered. Arsenault handed the man a ballot.

Arsenault noted that four other voters had had similar problems on Tuesday. All had registered through the Department of Motor Vehicles but, he said, sometimes when people register to vote through the DMV, their information doesn’t make it to the town clerks.

On the whole, the day had gone well, Arsenault said.

Folded absentee ballots “tend to wreak havoc” with the electronic tabulator, but that had been his only headache so far, he said.

Arsenault said he really pushed early voting this year. He sees it as a good option for rural Vernon, where many voters work out of town. These workers might not have time to get to the polls on Election Day, he said.

Arsenault had opened his office over the weekend for early voting, and he and two justices of the peace made a trip to the elder-care facilities — Vernon Green and Vernon Hall — to provide the respective residents a chance to cast ballots.

“People should be allowed to vote,” Arsenault said. “Government should make it easy for them.”

Brattleboro resident Joëlle Montagnino arrived at the polls in the afternoon. She waited “until the last minute” to vote, she said.

Montagnino had picked her gubernatorial candidate only 30 minutes before. It was a hard choice, she said, adding that she would feel happy with any of the candidates.

Vermont has good candidates to choose from, Montagnino said.

“It’s nice to choose between good candidates,” she said. “I feel like I voted for someone rather than just against something.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #382 (Wednesday, November 9, 2016). This story appeared on page A6.

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