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Vermont Primary Profile: What you need to know

Published: Aug. 5, 2020 at 7:24 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 6, 2020 at 11:01 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - The Vermont primary is less than a week away. So we’re taking a look at some of the key races in the state, who is running and what their vision is for Vermont.

But first, how you can vote. The pandemic is changing the way many people cast their ballots. And if you don't do it right, it won't count.

In the video below, our Christina Guessferd shows you how to avoid some common mistakes.

RECORD NUMBER OF EARLY AND ABSENTEE BALLOTS REQUESTED

As of Aug. 5, almost 150,000 Vermonters have requested early and absentee ballots. For perspective, that’s more early and absentee ballot requests than the total number of votes from two years ago.

And the more than 81,000 returned ballots is about 80% of the total voter turnout from 2018.

With so many more ballots than the state is accustomed to seeing, we asked Secretary of State Jim Condos if that increased volume could lead to delays in counting the votes.

"We would expect to start seeing results probably around the 8 o'clock hour on election night, in our election night reporting system and then it'll slowly pick up. Between 9 and 11 is when the bulk of the numbers come in. But who knows this year with that sheer number of ballots that have to be counted," said Condos, D-Vt. Secretary of State.

Condos says election night results are unofficial. The numbers still have to be verified and certified by his office. The official election results will come out the Tuesday following the election.

If you haven't already mailed your ballot there's no way to guarantee the post office will get it to your town clerk on time. But you can return your ballot directly to your town clerk during normal business hours any day they are open up until they close on August 10. Some clerks have installed secure drop boxes too. You can also deliver your ballots to the polls on Election Day.

WHAT IF YOU PLAN TO VOTE IN PERSON?

What do you need to know if you plan to vote in person and want to do it safely? Know where your polling place is.

If you aren’t sure, visit https://mvp.vermont.gov/ to find out.

Polling places will be open until 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

Town clerks have been supplied with gloves, masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectants. Follow social distancing guidelines and remember to wear a mask. The statewide mandate is in effect.

THE CANDIDATES AND THE RACES

Now, the candidates and the races.

ANALYSIS: HOW THE PANDEMIC IS CHANGING HOW OUR DEMOCRACY WORKS

Across all races for statewide office, COVID-19 has upended traditional campaigning, fundraising and voting. Our Calvin Cutler sat down with political analyst Chris Graff to see how the pandemic is changing how our democracy works.

It's a primary election like no other amid a global pandemic, a struggling economy and calls for racial justice.

"You're really voting for the lineup for the general election," said Graff, a former longtime Capitol Bureau chief for The Associated Press.

In the primary election, Republicans, Democrats and Progressives each have their own ballot.

That means in the primary a voter can’t pick both Republican Phil Scott and Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Brenda Siegel without writing one candidate in.

"You can't do that. You have to vote by party," Graff said.

The pandemic has upended how candidates campaign and how they're covered in the press.

Across Vermont's political spectrum, dozens of candidates are vying for office from the rural conservative John Klar to centrist Republican Phil Scott to Progressive David Zuckerman.

This election cycle, many cast themselves as political outsiders from establishment politics on the left and right.

Graff says though policy, community outreach and endorsements have an impact, Vermonters across the board tend to vote based on character.

"This is why Phil Scott's done so well," Graff explained. "People may not agree with all of his positions but they really respect and admire him as a person."

But in the pandemic, unless you're Phil Scott on live TV several times a week, it's tough to show Vermonters who you are and what you stand for: no meet and greets, no door knocking, no rallies. That's forced candidates to rely on name recognition or big endorsements.

In the democratic lieutenant governor’s race, political newcomer Molly Gray, who’s racked up high-profile endorsements and cash, is up against Tim Ashe, a longtime Chittenden County state senator who received 44,000 votes in 2018.

"How do you balance that? Name recognition. We've voted for Tim Ashe for so long or hey here's Molly Gray, someone new, different, young-- someone who has endorsements from a lot of established politicians," Graff said.

But leading up to the general election in November, there could be hurdles ahead for the Vermont GOP. 2018 was a relatively low spending year from donors and national organizations in the governor's race as many thought Scott would breeze to victory.

Political scientists say this year, the R next to Scott's name could hurt him in the general election.

“This is a year which many many Vermonters are going to come to the polls to vote against Donald Trump. That’s the advantage that Democrats have that Phil Scott is going to have to fight against, the impulse to put a straight Democratic ticket perhaps to the detriment of Phil Scott,” said Bert Johnson, a political science professor at Middlebury College.

Scott, who hasn't been actively campaigning, says he hopes to get back on the campaign trail after the primary.

"With all of these challenges coming our way, I'd like to be able to campaign more maybe in the traditional sense but the pandemic comes first and my day job comes first," Scott said.

Whether it’s Scott or another candidate, it’s a job that hundreds of thousands will turn to throughout and after the pandemic.

MORE RACES AND FOLLOWING THE MONEY

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