Turnout is high in local primary voting; November matchups decided

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Held in the hot and vacation rich month of August, Vermont’s primaries are generally sleepy affairs in which a relatively small number loyalists from the state’s three parties – Democratic, Republican and Progressive – come out to reaffirm the incumbents and chose the occasional challenger.

Voters are checked in at Chester Town Hall.

Voters are checked in at Chester Town Hall. Photos by Shawn Cunningham unless otherwise noted

But this year, several unrelated circumstances have combined to result in a stronger-than-usual turnout for a midterm election. First, longtime U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy announced his retirement, creating a vacuum in electoral politics that sucked a number of candidates into a rare opportunity to move up. U.S. Rep. Peter Welch is running for Leahy’s seat, opening his House seat to candidates from other offices, which in turn opens those offices to new people. The retirements of Secretary of State Jim Condos and Attorney General T.J. Donovan opened even more positions.

Additionally, legislative redistricting shuffled the deck in a number of area towns with Chester becoming part of a new district with Grafton, Windham and Athens. Andover, which was previously part of a district with Chester, is now voting with Weston, Londonderry and Winhall.

While a number of legislators — including many committee chairs — are retiring and opening seats for newcomers, that has relatively little effect here although state Rep. Tom Bock’s move to Chittenden County has given Chester Select Board member Heather Chase and Eva Ryan the chance to run for the Democratic and Republican nod respectively for the November General election. Both are from Chester and ran unopposed.

Nancy Juergens drops her ballot into the lockbox in Andover

Nancy Juergens drops her ballot into the lockbox in Andover

And, while the midterm primary seldom brings a lot of people to the polls, voters appear to be more comfortable with early and mail-in voting and that may have played a part in the strong turnout this summer.

So in Chester, when 7 p.m. rolled around, the overall voter count (for all three parties) stood at 613 (25 percent of the checklist.) By comparison, the vote in presidential primary years was 775 in 2020 and and 653 in 2016. Of that total, 420 voters took Democratic ballots while 192 took Republican and one voter cast a Progressive ballot.

In Andover, 33 percent of the voter checklist turned out with 85 taking Democratic ballots and 52 taking Republican. In Windham and Athens, 35 percent of registered voters turned out with 34 percent in Weston, 33 percent in Grafton, 21 percent in Cavendish and 19 percent in Londonderry.

A substantial number of voters in each town surveyed  on Tuesday had taken out absentee ballots and a large number of those had been returned by that morning, with more coming in during the day.  Cavendish saw 76 ballots being taken out and 67 returned, while Grafton voters took out 68 ballots and returned 57 by the time the polls opened. In Chester, 208 absentee ballots were sent to voters who requested them and, by the end of the day, 190 had come back and gone through the optical scanner.

State Senate races

Esther Fishman slides her ballot into Londonderry's optical scanner

Esther Fishman slides her ballot into Londonderry’s optical scanner

Windsor County is represented by three senators. Most recently, two were from the northern portion of the county while Alice Nitka of Ludlow was from the south.

When Nitka retired, Weston resident Chris Morrow threw his hat into the ring but then immediately withdrew leading some to speculate that the Dems were pushing for Becca White, a state representative from Hartford, the north part of the county.

But Morrow’s withdrawal was late enough that his name remained on the ballot and even though he did not campaign, he pulled 141 votes in Chester, 55 in Cavendish, 45 in Andover and 92 in Weston.  White polled 262 in Chester while incumbents Alison Clarkson and Dick McCormack received 299 and 251 respectively.

There are no county-wide numbers for that race as the “election results” page on the Secretary of State’s website had a glitch that was being worked on late into the evening and remained broken into Wednesday morning. We will add numbers for Windsor and Windham counties when they become available.

State representative

Chester Town Manager Julie Hance, left, chats with her daughter Meekah during a lull in voting.

Chester Town Manager Julie Hance, left, chats with her daughter Meekah during a lull in voting. The sign to the right warns about writing messages on ballots. Photo by Cynthia Prairie

Running unopposed in each of their primaries, Heather Chase (D) and Eva Ryan (R) will square off against each other in November. Chase pulled down 377 votes in Chester while Ryan took 146 votes in Chester. Across the district which includes Windham, Grafton and Athens, Chase garnered a total of 658 while Ryan pulled down 216 votes.

There were no candidates for the Vermont House in the Windham-Windsor-Bennington district on any of the three ballots leaving the field open for independent incumbent Kelly Pajala of Londonderry.

In the Windsor 2 district, comprised of Cavendish, Baltimore and Weathersfield, John Arrison ran unopposed on the Democratic ballot and there were no candidates from the Republican or Progressive parties. Nevertheless, Arrison will face an independent challenger in November – see below.

Windsor County sheriff

Independent candidate for State Rep. Stu Lindberg kicks off his campaign in front of the Cavendish polling station

Independent candidate for State Rep. Stu Lindberg kicks off his campaign in front of the Cavendish polling station

In a tight race for the Democratic nod, Ryan Palmer and Tom Battista were neck-and-neck in local towns throughout the evening. Battista bested Palmer 66 to 65 in Cavendish and 162 to 156 in Chester, but Palmer won Andover 36 to 30.

On Wednesday morning, Palmer was leading Battista 4,351 to 2,960 with one district still to report.

On the Republican side, incumbent Mike Chamberlain was running unopposed and will square off against Palmer in November.

Independents to stand in November

In addition to those standing for party nominations, some candidates identified as Independent and their names will appear on the ballot in November. Locally those include Kelly MacLaury Pajala, the incumbent state representative from Londonderry and Stuart Lindberg who is vying for a seat in the Vermont House from Cavendish (Windsor 2). Pajala is running unopposed while Lindberg will face incumbent Democrat John Arrison in November.

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  1. Lew Watters says:

    Democracy requires work.

  2. Arlene Mutschler says:

    25%? that is appalling. The remaining 75% have NO basis or right to complain about anything. THEY are the problem.