BRATTLEBORO — One day after one of the most contentious presidential elections in American history - an election that wouldn't yield a clear winner for days to come - about 100 people gathered for a candlelight vigil and march to, in the words of organizers, “demand that all the votes are counted and for the peaceful transition of power.”
While there was no final result on Nov. 4, when the vigil took place - and despite wide-ranging Republican efforts to insist without evidence that fraudulent votes had been cast - it appeared that former Vice-President Joe Biden was headed for a narrow victory over President Donald J. Trump.
That eased some of the tension of those in attendance.
Still, as night fell over the Town Common, many were feeling emotionally raw about the election, sharing a range of feelings, including uncertainty, fear, sadness, and anxiety.
But also among those emotions was hope, as speakers reminded the audience that their social justice work was ongoing.
“I really like coming together in times of crisis, which feels really ongoing in this moment. But coming together in solidarity, to feel less isolated, and to feel the power of our collective community feels so important,” said Abby Mnookin of 350Brattleboro.
350 Brattleboro, 350 Vermont, Lost River Racial Justice, and several other allied groups organized the vigil, which was part of a nationwide effort, Protect the Results, to demand a complete and fair count of all votes cast in this week's presidential election. Nine other cities and towns in Vermont held vigils and rallies on Nov. 4.
“The process is working - votes are being counted,” Sonia Silbert of 350Vermont and 350 Brattleboro, said to the attendees. “So we have to stay vigilant. We have to stay determined. We have to make sure that it continues to happen.”
A record turnout
Before the rally, in an election night meeting, the Selectboard unanimously approved a resolution supporting the effort.
“The ballot counting process may take longer than usual due to COVID-19 and other factors,” the resolution read in part, “so everyone must be patient to allow elections administrators to fulfill their duty in carefully, completely and accurately tabulating the election results.”
There was no such issue in Vermont, as voters cast their ballots in record numbers.
According to the Secretary of State's office, 372,366 Vermonters voted in the Nov. 3 election, with more than 70 percent choosing to mail in their ballots. The previous record was 326,822 for the 2008 presidential election.
An emergency COVID-19 provision gave the Secretary of State's office the authority to mail approximately 500,000 ballots directly to all active Vermont voters in the 2020 election during the pandemic.
With town clerks allowed to process and count the early ballots before the polls closed on Nov. 3, 90 percent of the election results in Vermont had been reported by midnight to the Secretary of State's office.
Although the fears of the vigil-goers never materialized, and Biden ultimately was declared the winner on Nov. 7, Mnookin said the rally served two purposes.
On a personal level, she said, it reminded people that, despite the election's uncertainty and any pain people might be feeling, they are not alone.
Next, the gathering helped remind elected officials across the country that the voters were awake and watching beyond Election Week.
“We're still here, we're still watching, we're still vigilant,” Mnookin said. “This work continues.”
“And for all of us who do organizing and justice work, the political system is just one piece of that,” she continued. “And there are so many other ways that change can be made and really has to be made.”
One of the speakers, State Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, D-Brattleboro, said the evening reminded her that shepherding change takes more than one election. She said the vigil helped her “recommit” her efforts and energy to deeper systemic changes that will foster a Vermont that works for everyone.
“We're lucky, again in Vermont and especially locally in Brattleboro, we have a lot of incredible elected officials,” Mnookin said. “We have some really fierce advocates for justice.”