Stefan Hard / Staff Photo Rep. Tommy Walz, D-Barre City, left greets voters Tuesday outside the official polling station at the Barre Auditorium.
MONTPELIER — Tuesday’s primary was marked by low voter turnout and slow, tedious counting by election officials as they sorted through many ballots with write-in votes.
Few Vermonters exercised their right to vote in the state’s primary Tuesday in which candidates looked to secure their party’s nominations for the general election in November. Clerks around the state reported a paltry showing from voters.
Most town and city clerks were expected to be counting and tallying results late into the night, well past deadline, thanks to aggressive write-in campaigns waged by Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Dan Feliciano and Dean Corren, a Progressive running for lieutenant governor.
On the GOP ballot, gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne was declared the winner by the Associated Press just after 8 p.m. He defeated Republicans Emily Peyton and Steve Berry, and fended off the write-in challenge by Feliciano.
With just 79, or 29 percent of the state’s 275 precincts reporting results at 8:45 p.m., Milne had tallied 70 percent of the vote, far ahead of both Peyton and Berry who both had about 6 percent. Write-in votes, presumably most with Feliciano’s name, accounted for 17.5 percent of the reported votes.
Town and city clerks were mandated to report results to the Secretary of State’s office Tuesday night with the number of write-in votes cast, but were not required to declare for whom those votes were cast.
“I’m very pleased to win. I was not surprised, I guess, but I think the low turnout could have been bad for me. My sense is that if there was a larger turnout my margin would have been higher,” Milne said. “Overall, I thought it was good for Vermont and I think it gives me a little more name recognition going into November, so I’m thankful for my opponents for that.”
Milne will now pivot from the primary to focus on defeating incumbent Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, who easily won his party’s nomination Tuesday. Milne said he will make the case that Shumlin has had “a really bad performance over the last four years.”
“We need to present ourselves as a credible alternative to Gov. Shumlin and I think we will do very well in the fall,” he said.
Corren was asking voters to write him in on the Democratic primary ballot to help him secure the nomination for both the Progressive and Democratic parties. He will need at least 250 write-in votes on the Democratic ballot for the party to endorse him. However, some party stalwarts, including Democratic Sens. Dick Mazza, Dick Sears and John Campbell, have endorsed the popular Republican incumbent, Phil Scott.
As of 8:45 p.m., 1,245 write-in votes had been counted, but it was unclear for whom. Some Democrats had pledged to write in Scott on the Democratic ballot in a bid to thwart Corren.
In the Democratic primary for governor, Shumlin was declared the winner early on by the Associated Press. He was way ahead of challenger H. Brooke Paige. Shumlin had 76 percent of the vote to Paige’s 17 percent.
Paige was also badly trailing incumbent Attorney General William Sorrell, also declared a winner by the AP, in that primary contest. Sorrell had 79 percent to Paige’s 20 percent.
The race for the Republican nomination for U.S. representative was too close to call. With 92 precincts reporting, Mark Donka and Donald Russell were separated by one vote and had 34 percent of the vote each. Donald Nolte had tallied 27 percent of the vote.
The extremely low turnout was not unexpected. The percentage of registered voters who cast ballots Tuesday was unknown Tuesday night, but looked like it could be one of the worst showings in recent history.
In Barre Town, by 2:30 p.m. only 227 voters had cast ballots out of a possible 5,464 voters on the checklist, according to Town Clerk Donna Kelty.
“It’s been really, really, slow here,” Kelty said. “We rarely have great turnout for primary elections. In our municipality it was the first day of school so people had other things on their minds.”
In Bennington, both of the town’s House districts featured a contest on the Democratic ballot. In the Bennington 2-2 district, four Democrats were running for two spots on the November ballot. Results were not available as of 8:45 p.m.
Still, not even that contested race with well-known candidates could drive voters to the polls in large numbers.
“It doesn’t look like it’s huge,” Town Clerk Timothy Corcoran said about turnout. “Even with those it’s not real huge.”
Corcoran said a lack of contested statewide races on the Democratic side was a major reason for the lack of interest among voters.
“There’s no real statewide races. Nobody votes in the Republican primary,” he said.
Kelty said the state’s late August primary is a main reason for the low turnout. Moving the primary to earlier in the year would likely boost turnout, she said.
“I would agree 100 percent with that. If I could pick and choose I think a good time for a primary would be mid-June,” Kelty said. “That would allow ample time for the secretary of state’s office to prepare ballots for the general election.”
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