BRATTLEBORO—On a hot July morning, Holton Home residents give their names to Activities Director Ellenka Wasung-Lott.
No, they say, we’re not registered to vote.
Wasung-Lott and volunteers help the residents register on the spot.
She said that Holton Home, a 35-room home for the elderly on Western Avenue, assists residents who are looking to vote in local elections, the primaries, and the general election.
Members of the staff put together candidate synopses, help residents who are interested in early voting, and provide transportation to the polls during elections.
Resident Melvina Springer said she will consider registering to vote this year.
Springer said she hasn’t gone to the polls since she voted for John F. Kennedy for president in 1960. Since then, she said, she’s been married twice, and neither husband voted.
“I might listen to Obama,” Springer said. “I don’t think he’s been given half a chance.”
“He was the only one getting the boys back home,” she adds.
Vermont’s early voting period, once called absentee voting, opened on July 16 for the Aug. 28 primary. Registered voters can contact their local town clerk to have a ballot mailed to them, or vote in person at the town clerk’s office.
The primary is open to all Vermont voters regardless of party affiliation.
AG candidates campaign
Candidate Attorney General William Sorrell spoke to Holton Home residents on July 17, as part of a recent 14-county tour to highlight early voting and meet with supporters.
The 15-year incumbent spoke about his wins for the state, starting with settling a case with the tobacco industry for over $300 million, through to a win that Vermont shared with New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission concerning onsite storage of nuclear waste.
Sorrell also cautioned the seniors about mail and wire scams aimed at the elderly, where people posing as relatives ask for money.
Sorrell also spoke about voting in the primary. He said if he doesn’t win against challenger Chittenden County State’s Attorney T. J. Donovan in August, his name won’t appear on the ballot in November.
“Your vote counts as much as mine, the governor’s, or anyone’s,” said Sorrell. “That’s the beauty of our system.”
Few people traditionally vote in primaries, said Sorrell in a separate interview, but those few voters determine the ballot for November’s general election.
As an example, Sorrell cited the 2010 primary.
According to election records from the Vermont Secretary of State’s Elections Division, Governor Peter Shumlin won by 197 votes. If only 99 voters had decided instead to vote for the runner-up, former Lt. Gov. Doug Racine, Shumlin would not be governor today.
Sorrell also worries that supporters might think he doesn’t need their votes in the primary because he’s the incumbent. But, he said, it doesn’t matter if the majority of voters support him if they don’t vote by Aug. 28.
Donovan, Sorrell’s challenger in the primary, stopped in Brattleboro on July 23.
In response to questions about a story about Sorrell’s loss of the state Democratic Party’s endorsement, as reported in VTDigger.org on July 23, Donovan said, “Bill’s a Democrat, and this race will be decided on Aug. 28.”
For his campaign, Donovan said, “Our message is resonating.”
He believes that Vermonters want more and expect more from the attorney general’s office. He views the support he has received through endorsements and on the campaign trail as a desire for change.
The job is more than signing on to national lawsuits, said Donovan, who pledged to create a department within the office to investigate elder abuse at all levels: physical, emotional, and financial.
He also said he would work with the Legislature to develop a defensible labeling law for genetically modified organisms and would “stand in solidarity” with migrant workers in Vermont.
Migrant justice, he said, is about human rights.
Donovan also spoke about the reforms that he would like to make in the state’s justice system, an issue that he says is close to his heart.
The state’s attorney wants people to have the right to petition to have their criminal record expunged, at least for minor crimes. Criminal records, he said, can keep people from obtaining jobs, housing, student loans, and public services like food stamps.
Donovan himself has a criminal record from his youth which has been expunged.
“We want people working in this state,” he said, adding the best public safety measure is an employed population.
A little more polished than at his first Brattleboro meet-and-greet on May 3, Donovan said he still feels he’s the underdog, with little name recognition in southern Vermont.
Donovan said the campaign trail has served as a “reconfirmation of how beautiful this state is.” But, he said, people have expressed anxiety for the future.
Donovan has also pushed better transparency for Vermont, saying he would push the state to meet the federal definition of open meetings and records, which assumes all is open unless a specific exemption exists.
Vermont, he said, assumes a record is closed unless it is specifically mandated to be open.
Donovan said he would create “an office of ideas, an office of energy, and an office of activism.”
“I’m willing to push policy that’s good for Vermont,” he said, defining what he meant by “activism.”
At the same time, he has stated he is not willing to lobby the Legislature.
To Donovan, Vermont’s recent history of bills that have been deemed controversial and challenged at the national level underscored a need for collaboration between the Legislature and the AG’s office.
Donovan hopes to scrutinize laws up front so the Legislature can pass statutes that survive lawsuits. Recent Vermont laws challenged at the national level include Entergy’s pre-emption suit currently in appeal and the campaign finance law.
Donovan said the inspiration that spurred him to run for Attorney General still holds true — that the office can change the lives of Vermonters and create more “fairness and equality” in its justice system.
“I want to be the people’s lawyer,” he said.