by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – At the close of business Monday, with more than 24 hours of voting to go, Assistant Town Clerk Tonia Gray estimated 530 ballots had been processed with many still to be counted. If that count proves accurate, it would be the highest voter turnout in Hardwick for an August primary since at least 1974, according to state data. The state does not break down totals by town for votes prior to that year.
The only year with a similar turnout was 2016, which saw 506 votes cast and featured a close two-way race for Governor on the Democrats’ side between Sue Minter and Matt Dunne, and a moderate challenge to Governor Phil Scott from Bruce Lisman. Hardwick and more than half of Vermont thought Governor Scott should keep his job that November.
Tuesday’s results should provide clues to what drove high primary voter turnout. While both Democrats and Republicans have a a number of candidates vying for top positions, many races went uncontested. Tuesday’s bond vote for the Jeudevine expansion has been a high-profile event years in the making, but the failed, controversial 2011 bond vote for the library drew only 443 voters to the polls at that time.
Gray said that for the most part people were comfortable with the mail-in system and found it easy to understand. According to Town Clerk Alberta Miller, pre-pandemic primary elections have seen few mail-in ballots, with 2018 having just 48 absentee votes. If the count is accurate, this year would see at least a ten-fold increase in that number, raising the question of whether voters may prefer mail-in ballots to voting in-person.