What Vermonters Can Expect on Election Day

More than a quarter million voters have already cast ballots

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Toward the end of the day before Election Day, the office of Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos announced more than 260,000 ballots had been cast through the state's expanded early voting process put in place to ease access to voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

That figure is 81% of Vermont's entire vote total from 2016, Condos' office noted. The number puts Vermont in a position where it could potentially set a voting record, according to several local elections officials.

Among the closely-watched local races, Democrat Molly Gray, a first time candidate, and Republican Scott Milne, a businessman who has run previously for governor and U.S. Senate, are vying for the position of Vermont's lieutenant governor.

The seat is open, causing heightened interest in the race.

"In this moment, we have to be bold, we have to be visionary, we have to be forward-looking when we think about the future of our state and recovering stronger from COVID-19," Gray said, adding that she would spotlight issues including child care affordability and expanding broadband.

Gray has racked up a long list of endorsements, including from influential Vermont Democrats such as Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.

A lot of the races in Vermont are a foregone conclusion, but some in the state are being tracked closely.

Milne said his emphasis would be on putting the managerial skills he honed running the travel business that bears his family's name to work to help Vermont recover from the economic damage from the pandemic.

The Republican also said he would work to be a bridge-builder, pointing to some endorsements from Democrats, including Debbie Ingram, a state senator from Chittenden County.

"America is the most polarized we've been since the Civil War right now," Milne observed. "I'm hoping that we're at the peak of that and we're going to start down the other side. I think I can be a small ingredient in getting down the other side."

Vermonters are also picking a governor.

Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, who was nominated by Democrats and Progressives, is looking to unseat incumbent Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican.

Scott has done little campaigning for re-election, pointing to his handling the state's response to the pandemic as his focus.

COVID-19 case counts in Vermont have remained low when compared to other states.

"The campaign really comes way down at the bottom of the list," Scott recently acknowledged.

Zuckerman, however, has been campaigning using socially-distant techniques such as drive-in rallies and honk-and-waves.

"We want to keep working through to keep people safe, and we need to build for our future," Zuckerman said of his main goals, noting he would work to protect the environment and raise the minimum wage.

One area of similarity between Scott and Zuckerman is that the challenger has said he would keep on Scott's health commissioner to help maintain continuity during the pandemic.

Secretary of State Condos said all polling places will be open Tuesday for in-person voting. He encouraged voters to bring a mouth and nose covering, and their own black ink pen to cut down on shared pens possibly spreading the virus.

"The Sharpie can go through the ballot to the other side," Condos warned, urging people to choose a different variety of pen to bring with them.

He also asked that voters bring the official ballot that was mailed to all active registered Vermont voters.

If you've lost it or if the dog ate it or something, you can still vote, Condos said, but you'll have to go through an extra step of filling out a legal document swearing you didn't already vote your first ballot.

"No voter will be denied their right to cast a ballot," Condos said.

If you forget a pen or face mask, Condos says polling places will be equipped, and they'll also have protective materials like hand sanitizer.

Vermont also has same-day voter registration, so anyone who is not registered to vote can do so at their polling place.

Leahy is not on the ballot this year, but if the control of the U.S. Senate shifts to the Democrats, he would become Senate president pro tempore.

In that role, he would preside over the Senate when the nation's vice president is away, and he would be in line of succession for the presidency should the president, vice president and U.S. House speaker all, for some reason, be unable to serve.

Leahy told NECN he would also work to use his seniority to try to heal a deeply polarized nation if his party gains a majority in the Senate.

"I have met privately and talked quietly with both Republican and Democratic senators," Leahy said Monday. "It's amazing, going across the political spectrum, the number who have said, 'We can't go on like this,' in both parties. If we're in the majority and I'm president pro tem, I'd use the president pro tem's office to have meetings with both Republicans and Democrats and say, 'Come on, folks, where are some of the areas we can agree on?' and go with them. You can't go on with this rhetoric where people are so polarized."

Leahy said he would find the possibility of chairing the Senate Appropriations Committee appealing if the Democrats win a majority, adding that he would find it rewarding to help his small state secure funding for spending priorities — especially as Vermont works to recover from the pandemic.

Vermont businesses are among those contributing to a national effort to increase voter participation.

Burton, the famous name in snowboarding, is giving workers in its U.S. retail stores and at its Vermont headquarters a paid day off Tuesday, encouraging them to use it to vote, volunteer at polling places or help others participate.

"No one should have to choose between earning a paycheck and exercising the right to vote," said Jenn Swain, Burton's director of sustainability and civic engagement. "And we see that this year, it's particularly important that we give staff the time to really follow through on exercising that right."

Ben & Jerry's also gave employees a paid day off Tuesday. The famous ice cream company has key manufacturing facilities and its headquarters in Vermont.

The organization Time To Vote, a business coalition which was founded by Patagonia, Levi's, PayPal and other firms, said nearly 2,000 companies across the country have done something this year to make it easier for their employees to vote.

Referring to the strong early vote numbers, the office of Secretary of State Condos tweeted, "If you haven't voted yet, let's finish the job and go set a record tomorrow!"

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