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A look at the voting process in a small Vermont community

Voters at the polls in Brookfield.
Voters at the polls in Brookfield.(WCAX)
Published: Nov. 3, 2020 at 5:49 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 3, 2020 at 6:41 PM EST
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BROOKFIELD, Vt. (WCAX) - In-person voting got underway in Vermont Tuesday morning. About 20% of communities here hand count their ballots. One of those is Brookfield. Our Scott Fleishman checked in with voters there and shows you how the process takes place in a small town.

About 600 voters mailed in their ballots. Brookfield Town Clerk Teresa Godfrey said she expected about 200 people to come through the doors of the Old Town Hall on Tuesday.

Once voters check-in, they sign an affidavit saying this is their only ballot and they didn’t mail one in, as well. After that, they receive their ballot and go into the room where the voting takes place. The tables are socially spaced so people can sit. Once you’re done, someone comes by to wipe down the chair and table, you check out, get your sticker and put the ballot in the box to be counted by hand once the polls close at 7 p.m.

I asked voters at the polls in Brookfield why they decided to vote in-person on Election Day as opposed to mailing in their ballot.

The reasons varied, but the integrity of the process was a top reason.

“I just feel like it’s more secure. It’s something I’ve always done, just come out the day of the election. There’s too much that can happen before, so I just thought that I’d do it the day of,” Yvonne Matthews said.

“I just thought it was more of a sure thing. I don’t mind coming out. They’re all nice people here. I’d miss seeing everybody if I didn’t,” Alan Stoddard said.

“Mailing is so impersonal and I don’t trust not knowing that my vote definitely got counted,” Carol Mayotte said.

“It really has nothing to do other than it’s a tradition for me. I just enjoy going and doing the voting,” Gregory Matthews said.

None of the people I spoke with were afraid of getting sick.

Voters had masks on and sat far apart while filling out their ballots.

So how are communities handling the large number of mail-in ballots this year?

Godfrey said about 600 ballots were mailed-in or dropped off. That’s more ballots than the entire number of total votes in the 2018 midterm election.

Here’s how the ballots are taken care of in Brookfield. A green box holds ballots mailed in or dropped off. Throughout the day, the volunteers have been taking the ballots out, checking for signatures, opening them and then treating the ballot like the person is actually here. The name on the ballot gets checked off, it comes to the other side where they’re checked out and the ballot goes right into the box later to be hand-counted. Pretty simple.

In Brookfield, polling is usually done at the elementary school, but this year it’s happening at the Old Town Hall to accommodate social distancing.

The main portion of this building was constructed in 1856 and was used as a boarding house for Fork Shop workers all up and down the pond. In 1874, it was purchased by the Masons. They used it for 98 years. There was a meeting hall added on the back in 1900. In 1974, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. From 1972-2002 it was under private ownership until it was purchased by the Brookfield Community Partnership in 2002.

It’s hosted a number of events and now, a general election polling location.

Ted Elzey/Brookfield Community Partnership: Pretty much fully restored it. We’ve got a full operating catering kitchen, the hall itself has been refurbished, painted, floors are done. We’ve got composting toilets here when we have events all summer long, it’s well-received.

Reporter Scott Fleishman: How fitting is it, in this year, to have the election here?

Ted Elzey: We had the primaries here and they really loved the opportunity to have the space to walk around and do what they needed to do. So, they decided they really needed to do the election here as well and so we arranged to get some heat in there and it’s quite comfortable inside. It’s worked out really, really well.

“It’s actually better than when we did it at the school because you had to stand. This way, you sit down and take your time,” said Carol Mayotte of Brookfield.

“You know, it’s not been overcrowded. What I was worried about was being a line outside, sitting out there in the street, but no it’s a nice setup here. They got it down pat right now,” said Alan Stoddard of Brookfield.

Across the street from the Old Town Hall on the hill is the town clerk’s office and the town library. The library is the oldest library in continuous existence in Vermont and it’s one of the oldest libraries in the country.

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