Sixty-five percent of Vermont’s more than 460,000 registered voters turned out to cast their ballots this year — a slightly lower percentage than forecast by Secretary of State Jim Condos.
“Based on previous years, I thought the turnout would be somewhere around 70 percent plus or minus,” said Condos. “It was a little less than what everyone figured. We all thought it was going to be higher.”
Condos couldn’t be sure why some 22,000 fewer voters than predicted turned up at polls, but said: “It could be that there really wasn’t a lot of high-profile races, with the exception of two races on the statewide ticket. … The point is, the hotter the race, the closer the race, the more people come to vote for it.”
He cited President Barack Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Rep. Peter Welch as at least three “given” winners in the state, which could account for a slightly less robust turnout.
In the 2008 elections, 72 percent of registered voters, or about 327,000 Vermonters, cast ballots.
Another interesting figure from this year’s elections statistics is the proportion of early or absentee votes cast, which stood at 25 percent of all votes this cycle. That’s down from a 28.9 percent for early or absentee ballots in 2010.
Condos said town clerks told him there was a spike of early vote requests around mid-October, but absentee ballot requests dropped as the election drew nearer.
“Both Democrats and Republicans were pushing the early vote early on,” Condos said. “When you look at the overall turnout as being down, then it stands to reason that probably the early vote would be down a little.”
Republican super PAC Vermonters First sent out mailings with an enclosed absentee ballot request form to thousands of voters in late September urging them to vote early. This caused some confusion among voters, as VPR reported. The super PAC’s founder, Tayt Brooks, didn’t return a request for comment.
Democrats used a program called “Ballot Chase,” which helped the state party track voters who requested early ballots. The party used the information to call voters and persuade them to vote for Democratic candidates.
It’s unknown how many voters the Vermonters First early voting mailers reached, or how much they cost. Democrats tracked the early ballot request status of more than 53,000 voters through their program.
John Cushing, Milton town clerk and former president of the Vermont Municipal Clerks and Treasurers Association, expected to see more early voters this year.
He said the Vermonters First mailing caused confusion among Milton voters, because they believed that the town clerk had sent them because it included a pre-addressed return envelope to the clerk.
But he said the mailing effectively promoting early voting, with over 40 early vote applications submitted as a direct result of the super PAC’s mailer. “I push the early vote, I really do,” he said. “I think it was a good thing. The voters themselves had to mail it back; the voter knows at least that they sent it.”