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One of the most eagerly anticipated elections in American history begins this morning in Vermont. But unlike the battle between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the Green Mountain State is expected to know the unofficial winner of its races for governor, lieutenant governor, representative to Congress and four other statewide offices by the time the clock strikes midnight Wednesday.

As of Monday morning, more than 244,000 Vermonters had cast ballots in an early voting program implemented to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus at polling places. Ballots were mailed to every registered voter in the state, and the response has shattered the record set for early voting in the state.

Vermont voters who have yet to vote may drop off their completed ballot or vote in person at their polling places today. Ballots must be returned and in possession of the town clerk by the time polls close at 7 p.m. 

Clerks have been allowed to enter ballots into tabulation machines to make tonight's count easier. But counting will not begin until after polls close, per state law.

While tensions are high in this presidential election, state officials have warned that voter intimidation will not be tolerated.

“It is a crime to intimidate or interfere with a Vermonter's right to vote at the polls,” Attorney General T.J. Donovan said in early October. “The Attorney General's Office will enforce the laws as necessary to ensure that all Vermonters are able to peacefully exercise their fundamental right to vote without disruption."

Gov. Phil Scott, the only Vermont Republican holding statewide office, is seeking a third two-year term. He faces Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, who won the Democratic nomination.

Zuckerman has pushed Scott for vetoing legislation that could benefit needy Vermonters and moving too slowly on climate change, and said he’d push ahead on those fronts, raising revenue by increasing taxes on the wealthy. He’s enjoyed a significant fundraising advantage helping him make those points.

But Scott is widely expected to win, largely due to his administration’s success in controlling the COVID-19 outbreak and his reputation as a moderate willing to break with national Republicans. He’s campaigned little, but has touted his steady leadership and opposition to raising taxes and fees.

The race to succeed Zuckerman as lieutenant governor has been less congenial -- and is seen as a much closer contest. Polls have indicated Molly Gray, the Democratic nominee and an assistant attorney general, with a slight lead over Republican Scott Milne, a business owner. Gray had momentum from her convincing win in the Democratic primary, and has the backing of the state’s Democratic establishment. Milne has presented himself as a potential ally for Scott in Montpelier, and has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money in the race.

In the Congressional election, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.,  is seeking an eighth term representing Vermont’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He faces Republican Miriam Berry of Essex and five other candidates. Neither of the state's two U.S. Senate seats are on the ballot this year.

Down the ballot, Democrats are hoping to retain their holds on constitutional offices, as incumbent Attorney General T.J. Donovan, Treasurer Beth Pearce, Auditor Doug Hoffer and Secretary of State James Condos are all seeking reelection.

In the Legislature, where Democrats enjoy solid majorities in both chambers, Republicans are seeking to make inroads and deny Democrats a single-party supermajority in the House.

In the current biennium, Democrats hold 95 House seats, with 43 for Republicans, 7 for Progressives and 5 for Independents. The Democrats need to flip five more seats to assure a single-party, two-thirds majority of 100 members, which, on paper, could override a veto without assistance. Republicans, who lost 10 seats in 2018, are looking to reserve that trend.

In the Senate, Democrats are comfortably in control with 22 of 30 seats, with Republicans holding six and Progressives two. One of those senators, Majority Leader Becca Balint, D-Windham, is in line to become the next President Pro Tem of the chamber if reelected, as the current president, Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, stepped down to make an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor.

Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for New England Newspapers. Reach him at gsukiennik@reformer.com.


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