MONTPELIER – Early voting in Vermont's hotly contested 2010 primary kicked off Monday, but some communities turned people away due to a lack of ballots.
Vermont voters who are members of the state's three major political parties – Democratic, Republican and Progressive – will decide who their nominees will be for the fall general election on Aug. 24, a new earlier primary date for the state.
On Monday those ballots were supposed to become available at town and city clerk offices across the state, allowing voters to cast their ballot 45 days early.
But the ballots hadn't all arrived on time.
Montpelier City Clerk Charlotte Hoyt said Monday morning that her office had no ballots to give out to early voters, since the Federal Express package of the ballots didn't arrive as expected last week. But Hoyt said she expected them to come in by Monday afternoon in time to mail to overseas voters and members of the military not in Vermont.
"They were supposed to come today and I think they'll be here by this afternoon," Hoyt said around 10 a.m. Monday morning.
That was a problem for Montpelier resident Amy Shollenberger, the campaign manager for Sen. Doug Racine's gubernatorial bid. She was turned away from the City Clerk's office at 9:30 Monday morning when she tried to cast her ballot for Racine, a Democrat from Chittenden County.
She said she would try back later that day, but said such an event might discourage other voters from participating.
"It was disappointing," she said. "Hopefully the secretary of state will have enough time to get the ballots ready to ensure that voters who want to cast their ballots early can do so."
Vermont's secretary of state Deb Markowitz, one of the five candidates in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, is in charge of elections in Vermont and her office is responsible for getting ballots to town and city clerks across the state.
She said the state prints up ballots equal to half of each communities' voter checklists, although turnout for primaries – even hotly contested ones like this year's Democratic gubernatorial primary – typically turn out fewer voters than there are ballots.
"There are usually thousands of extra ballots," she said.
Markowitz defended the late delivery of ballots to some towns and cities, saying that state law requires that early voting ballots be available that day – and she said all those communities that didn't get ballots delivered Friday as scheduled should have them by early afternoon Monday.
She added that delivering the ballots later than expected on Monday will not result in a delay in getting the primary ballots to Vermonters overseas.
"We're on target," she said. "We have 45 days before the primary to get the ballots out to all the clerks and that has happened."
In Brattleboro, the fifth largest community in Vermont, ballots were also missing from the town clerk's office Monday morning.
Clerk Annette Cappy said she didn't have to turn anyone away, but said she was "half-expecting to see them in the mail on Friday." The city of Rutland had no ballot problems Monday, according to the city clerk's office, as the shipment had been delivered as scheduled last Friday.
The city of Burlington – the largest community in Vermont – had an even stranger problem with early voting Monday. The ballots for the city's Democratic primary were printed on paper too large for their vote-counting machines.
Scott Schrader, the assistant deputy administrator officer, said Burlington is "up to its eyebrows" with 72 cases of ballots that will be used between now and Aug. 24. But the problem was that the Democratic ballot – likely due to the large number of people running for office under that party banner – was printed on paper than was 9 by 14 inches.
The ballots for the Republican and Progressive primaries were printed at the usual size of 8.5 by 11 inches.
"They were unusable," Schrader said, who blamed the problem on the company that printed the ballots for the state. "We didn't even know when we would be getting replacements, so when we turned people away we couldn't give them a good time to come back."
Schrader said new Democratic ballots, printed double-sided to account for the large number of candidates and matching the size of the GOP ballots, were delivered to the office by the Secretary of State's election division before mid-afternoon.
"They called us about the problem before we even received the ballots," he said.
All the clerks that the Vermont Press Bureau spoke with Monday reported average voter traffic for the first day of early voting.
Early voting for the primary will continue to Aug. 24. Vermont residents over the age of 18 should contact or visit their local town clerk for ballot information.
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