What voting looks like in one Vermont town during coronavirus pandemic


Lynn Vera explains some of the measures spurred by the coronavirus at the Orchard School during the Thursday, May 28, 2020, vote on the school budget. Burlington Free Press

SOUTH BURLINGTON – Voters arriving at Orchard School on Thursday morning to cast ballots on the school budget were greeted at the entrance by Cole Patno, who opened the door for them.

Patno’s gesture was more than courtesy. He was part of the city’s measures to reduce the spread of the new COVID-19 during the election, the first since gov. Phil Scott declared a state of emergency and issued stay home orders in March.

“We’re trying to reduce contact with surfaces,” Patno said.

COVID-19 is the official name of the disease related to the coronavirus that first started to affect people at the end of 2019 and can be fatal for some people, usually those with other medical complications.

‘Very different’

Just inside the door of the school was a sanitizer dispenser. At the entrance to the gym, Brenda Withey was seated at a table to check-in voters, protected behind a barrier with clear windows.

There were signs reminding people to keep at least six feet apart and asking people to use their own pens to mark ballots.

“This is very different,” said Withey, who has been an election volunteer for 10 years.

Lynn Vera, the presiding officer for the Orchard School polling station, said other anti-coronavirus measures include requiring everyone wear a mask, limiting the number of people in the gym to 10 at any one time, taping off voting booths so people aren’t crowded together, and having a separate exit so voters don’t have to pass through the same door as those arriving.

“Primarily, they’re common sense, best practices,” she said.

School budget vote

Thursday’s vote was only on the school budget, which failed on Town Meeting Day.

Vera said turnout was “steady, but a trickle.”

Special elections normally draw far fewer people than regular votes, such as Town Meeting Day and the November general election.

As of 9:45 a.m., about 75 voters had come through the school, while election officials were opening an additional 300 mail-in ballots, a figure she called “about average.”

The arrival of voters spaced out over time helps in meeting the protocols set up against COVID-19, Vera said. “It’s easy to keep people distant.”


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Aki Soga is engagement and insights editor for the Burlington Free Press. Email him at asoga@freepressmedia.com,  or chat with him on Twitter: @asoga

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