Election preview: Clerks find rush for early ballots as election looms

ADDISON COUNTY — Addison County town clerks are bracing for what they believe will be a very healthy turnout for at the Nov. 8 General Election, citing the high-profile race for president, a collection of well-contested local House and Senate races, open seats for governor and lieutenant governor, and a school governance consolidation referendum that will be fielded in the five-town Addison Northeast Supervisory Union.
A four-person race for “high bailiff” has also captured the attention of many county residents.
Early and absentee voting has been brisk, and could in some towns top the record number of early ballots cast prior to the 2008 presidential election that culminated in the election of Barack Obama.
“It’s definitely busy,” Starksboro Town Clerk Cheryl Estey said of the request for absentee ballots. She said 205 locals have voted early this year, which she said has been high compared to previous years. Starksboro residents will also participate in the ANeSU school governance referendum and an Addison-4 House race that has garnered statewide attention and resources.
“I think the biggest part of it is the presidential (election),” Estey said of the voter feedback she had received. That race involved Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, who have been locked in a political slugfest that has generated a lot of headlines.
In Bristol — another ANeSU town that will vote on the four-way race for the two Addison-4 House seats — approximately 400 people have filled out absentee ballots, according to Town Clerk Jen Stetson. That could put the town on target to equal, or eclipse, the more than 800 absentee ballots cast back in the 2008 presidential election year, according to Town Clerk Jen Stetson.
Meanwhile, in Middlebury, Town Clerk Ann Webster said more than 1,200 residents have voted absentee thus far. She called that number “a little more active” than in the presidential election of 2012, and on track to potentially equal the more than 1,600 early votes cast in 2008.
Ferrisburgh is part of the Addison-3 House district that — like Addison-4 — is featuring a keenly observed four-person race for two seats. Town Clerk Gloria Warden on Tuesday reported 428 absentee ballots cast thus far, compared to the 330 filed eight years ago.
Area mailboxes during the past few weeks have been crammed with glossy political flyers from candidates and the state Democrats and GOP, hoping to influence voters’ decisions at the ballot box next Tuesday. The mailboxes have been particularly clogged in the aforementioned Addison-3 and Addison-4 House districts. Everyone has been receiving multiple flyers urging support, or rejection, for gubernatorial candidates Sue Minter (Democrat) and Phil Scott (Republican).
“We have a lot of wonderful candidates who are working hard and who deserve to win,” said Spence Putnam, current secretary and past chairman of the Addison County Democratic Committee.
Putnam believes voter turnout this year could be up more than 15 percent compared to the last election cycle.
Jon Christiano, chairman of the Addison County GOP, said there’s a lot to like about the Republican slate of candidates up and down the ticket.
“They’ve been really working hard, and I think that will show in this election,” Christiano said.
What follows is a complete rundown of the local House, Senate and county races that will be in play this Tuesday, Nov. 8. See accompanying story for an overview of national and statewide races.
Two Democrats and one Progressive candidate are in the running for the two House seats representing Middlebury, one of which is being vacated by the county’s most senior lawmaker, Democrat Betty Nuovo.
The two Democrats are Rep. Amy Sheldon, and Addison County Economic Development Corp. (ACEDC) Executive Director Robin Scheu.
Jill Charbonneau finished out of the running in the Addison-1 Democratic primary on Aug. 9, but she remains in the race as a Progressive candidate.
Charbonneau is a retired USPS letter carrier who served in Middlebury from 1987 to 2014. She has been very active in union causes. Charbonneau is the former president of the Vermont State Labor Council AFL/CIO and is the current president of the State Association of Letter Carriers.
Scheu is a former bank executive who held top positions in financial institutions in both Massachusetts in Vermont. She worked stints as manager of the Addison County Solid Waste Management District and as interim director of the Middlebury Area Land Trust before being appointed to her ACEDC job in 2008.
Sheldon is rounding out her first term in the House, where she serves on the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee. She is a Middlebury College graduate (class of 1988). Sheldon is a consulting natural resource planner and river scientist at her business Landslide Natural Resource Planning. She has previously served on the Middlebury Planning Commission, the District 9 Environmental Board and on the Middlebury Area Land Trust board.
Once again, no Republicans candidates have elected to run in Addison-1, which has not produced a GOP representative in more than a decade.
Cornwall Democrat Peter Conlon is the lone taker for the House seat representing Cornwall, Goshen, Hancock, Leicester, Ripton and Salisbury. It is a seat currently held by incumbent Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, who has decided not to run for re-election after a career that included service as House majority leader.
Conlon is a former Addison Independent news editor who currently serves as chairman of the Addison Central School District board. Conlon, a 52-year-old Democrat, is a lifelong Vermonter who has lived in Cornwall since 1990. He worked for a decade as a labor specialist in the dairy industry. He is currently self-employed as a move manager and home inventory specialist.
Four candidates are in the running for the two House seats representing Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham.
In the mix once again are incumbent Reps. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes and Rep. Warren Van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh. They are facing opposition this year from Republican Monique Thurston and Democrat Fritz Langrock, both of Ferrisburgh.
Lanpher is seeking her fifth two-year term in the House. She served several years on the House Transportation Committee before being assigned to the House Appropriations Committee last year. Lanpher has served on the Vergennes City Council, the Addison County Transportation Advisory Board and current board member of Addison County Transit Resources (ACTR). She and her husband Jim Lanpher recently sold their Horace Mann Insurance agency in South Burlington, though they continue to work part-time for the new owners.
Gov. Peter Shumlin appointed Van Wyck to the House on Feb. 7, 2013, following the tragic death of then-Rep. Greg Clark, R-Ferrisburgh. Addison-3 voters elected Van Wyck to the job in 2014. Van Wyck currently serves of the House Natural Resources & Energy Committee and is vice chairman of the Legislative Information Technology Committee. He has worked for the University of Vermont as a computer analyst programmer since 1987.
Thurston, a retired radiologist, moved to Vermont in 2013 after having lived for 33 years in western Maine. She has taken a particular interest in the subject of renewable energy, and has testified before legislative committees considering siting and noise issues associated with green energy projects.
Langrock is a partner in the Middlebury-based law firm Langrock, Sperry & Wool. He is a member of the Vermont Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys and the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. Langrock is currently the Vermont State Delegate to the American Bar Association House of Delegates. He is a former president of the Vermont State Amateur Hockey Association, and is a director of USA Hockey.
Four hopefuls are competing for two seats representing the district that encompasses Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton and Starksboro. They include incumbent Reps. Dave Sharpe, D-Bristol and Fred Baser, R-Bristol, along with challengers Mari Cordes — a Lincoln Progressive and Democrat — and Monkton Republican Valerie Mullin.
Baser is a longtime financial planner, having founded Bristol Financial Services Inc. in 1987. The former Bristol selectman was the top vote-getter (with 1,872 tallies) in the Addison-4 House contest in 2014. Baser is completing his freshman term in the House as a member of the Commerce & Economic Development Committee. He has served on the boards of Porter Medical Center, the ACEDC, the Patricia Hannaford Career Center, and Addison County Chamber of Commerce. He serves as town moderator and justice of the peace in Bristol.
Cordes has for the past 15 years worked at the UVM Medical Center. She and her family have lived in Vermont for around 30 years, moving to Lincoln in 2003. Cordes has delivered testimony at the Statehouse on behalf of the UVM Medical Center’s nurses’ union on such issues as health care reform, paid sick days, and safe hospital staffing levels for patient care. She helped create the Equal Care Coalition, to advocate for the elimination of health insurance policy exclusions for transgender patients. Cordes currently serves as treasurer for 350VT, a grassroots group that advocates for remedies to climate change.
Mullin is a lifelong Vermonter and a Mount Abraham Union High School graduate. She’s a mom and independent business person, teaching skincare techniques and mentoring women nationally on the subject of entrepreneurship and financial independence. She previously co-owned and operated “Needleworks and Crafts,” a craft supply store in Charlotte, an enterprise that was eventually expanded to locations in downtown Burlington and Ticonderoga, N.Y. Mullin is making her second run for an Addison-4 seat. She finished fourth, with 1,514 votes, in the four-person race in 2014.
Sharpe is a 14-year veteran of the House and currently chairs the Education Committee. He served for more than a decade on the House Ways and Means Committee, a panel that deals with the state’s tax laws and revenue picture. Sharpe is also a member of the state’s Joint Fiscal Committee. He recently retired as an Automotive Technology teacher at regional technical centers in Middlebury and then in Essex Junction.
Sharpe has already announced that he will run for House speaker should be re-elected to his Addison-4 post this fall.
Incumbent Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven, is being challenged this year by Democrat Taborri Bruhl, also of New Haven, for the seat representing Bridport, New Haven and Weybridge.
Bruhl is an economics teacher at Rutland High School. He waged a successful write-in campaign during the Aug. 9 primary to get onto the general election ballot. Bruhl is a United States Marine Corps veteran who has been emphasizing renewable energy, a raise in the minimum wage and greater supports for farmers.
Smith is a longtime farmer and one of the county’s most veteran lawmakers, having served a combined total of almost 14 years divided into two separate stints. Smith has logged many years of service on the House Agriculture and Forest Products Committee, He has also served as president of the Addison County Farm Bureau, and service on the boards of the UVM Extension Advisory, the Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the Use Value Appraisal Coalition, the United Dairy Industries Association, and Dairy Management Inc. He is former State executive director of Farm Service Agency. He has also served on the ACEDC board and the Addison County Regional Planning Commission.
Incumbent Rep. Alyson Eastman, I-Orwell, is again unopposed in her run for the seat that represents Benson, Orwell, Shoreham and Whiting. Born and raised in Orwell, Eastman was first elected to the House in 2014 and served during the past biennium with Smith on the House Agriculture and Forest Products Committee. In 2010, she founded Lake Home Business Services, Inc., a company that among other things helps farms complete immigration paperwork for foreign workers taking part in the H2A seasonal work visa program. She currently serves on both the Orwell and the Addison-Rutland Supervisory Union (ARSU) Boards.
State Senate
The race for the two state Senate seats representing Addison County, Huntington and Buel’s Gore will involve incumbent Democratic Sens. Claire Ayer of Addison and Chris Bray of New Haven, along with Republican challengers Peter Briggs of Addison and Lynn Dike of Bristol.
Ayer is rounding out her 14th consecutive year in the Senate. She currently chairs the Senate Health & Welfare Committee and serves as Senate majority whip. Ayer is a registered nurse and also possesses a degree in environmental studies from Middlebury College. She has previously served as chairwoman of the Weybridge School Board, and president of the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts, and on the  Middlebury Area Land Trust board. Ayer has also served on the Judicial Retention and Health Access Oversight committees and was elected to the UVM Board of Trustees for six years, where she chaired the College of Agriculture Board and Chair of the Educational Policy and Institutional Resources Committee.
Ayer also currently serves on the Senate Finance Committee, Health Reform Oversight Committee and Joint Fiscal Committee.
Bray is rounding out his second, two-year term in the Senate, where he serves as chairman of the Natural Resources & Energy Committee. He also serves on the Senate Government Operations Committee and chairs the Joint Energy Committee. He began his legislative career in the House in 2007, serving the Addison-5 district for two terms. He ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2010, but won election to the Senate in 2012. Bray previously served on the boards of the United Way of Addison County, Middlebury Rotary Club, Vermont Milk Commission, Rural Economic Development Working Group, Vermont Forestry Study Group, NCSL Agriculture & Energy Committee and Middlebury Area Land Trust.
Bray founded and still operates Common Ground Communications, which provides writing, editing and production services to technical clients and the book publishing industry. He and his family operate an 82-acre farm in New Haven.
Both Ayer and Bray have confirmed plans to run for the position of Senate President Pro Tem if they are re-elected to the state’s highest chamber this November.
Briggs was born and raised in Addison, where he works on his family’s farm. He currently serves as vice chairman of the Addison selectboard, and previously served on his community’sDevelopment Review Board. Briggs already has experience as a candidate for the Legislature; in November of 2013, he fell less than 100 votes shy of winning an Addison-3 House seat.  Briggs, on his campaign Facebook page, describes his political views as “very conservative,” and states such priorities as repealing Act 46; supporting repeal of Vermont Health Connect; passing balanced budgets; and creating jobs through “business friendly taxes and regulations.”
Dike is a Bristol resident and was a frequent contributor during this past winter’s legislative breakfast series. She has said she’s running for the state Senate because she wants to bring more “balance” to a governing body that has been numerically tilted in favor of Democrats in recent years. This is Dike’s first foray into politics during a fruitful life that has featured a lot of early travel as a military spouse, followed by a lengthy career in the health care industry as a nurse at Helen Porter Healthcare & Rehabilitation Services in Middlebury.
High bailiff
Four men are seeking the position of high bailiff, an elected county officer.
In the running are Republican Charles Clark Jr. of Middlebury, Democrat Ron Holmes of Middlebury, and independents Bruce Nason of Bristol and Mark Stacey of Leicester.
According to state statutes, a high bailiff may serve writs that the county sheriff is unable to serve. If an arrest warrant is issued against the sheriff, the high bailiff may arrest the sheriff. If the sheriff is confined or the office of sheriff is vacant, the high bailiff carries out the duties of the sheriff until the sheriff is released from confinement or one is appointed and sworn into office.
Also of note
Most local polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
Voting in Middlebury will for the first time take place at the town’s new recreation facility on Creek Road. Voting had for many years been held at the municipal gym, which was torn down this past summer.
Also, this Friday, Nov. 4, is the last day available for early voting in Middlebury, noted Town Clerk Ann Webster. Her office at 77 Main St. will be closed both Monday, Nov. 7, and Tuesday, Nov. 8, for the election responsibilities.
In Bridport, voters will see no Republican Party names on the ballot of Justice of the Peace for the town, because of a missed deadline. There are two names on the ballot as it is printed, and voters may select not more than seven names. Joan Huestis asked her fellow residents to consider writing in the following names: Darwin Pratt, Cory Pratt, Paul Wagner, Clement Gaboriault and Joan Huestis.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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