Drive through voting debuts in Williston

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(Host) Cars doubled as voting booths today as Williston became possibly the first town in the country to offer drive-through voting.

VPR’s Steve Zind was there.

(Zind) A protest singer stood outside the polling place urging voters to vote no on a ballot item. That wasn’t the only thing unusual about today’s vote in Williston.

There was also an air of excitement about the occasion which is a first for Vermont and perhaps for the nation: Williston is offering drive through voting.

(Poll workers) “Good morning. Hi. Your name is… “

(Zind) Poll workers Ginger Morton and Nancy Milne are in high spirits as they check off names and hand ballots to the steady stream of vehicles that pull in behind the Williston Fire Station.

(Poll worker) “We’re making history. Everybody wants to be a part of it.”

(Milne)”We’ve had bicycles, motorcycles, a dump truck, a school bus, antique fire truck “

(Zind) The women hand a ballot and a pen to a man on a Harley Davidson. He records his vote and pulls forward, driving through an open bay in the fire station to deposit it in the ballot box. The whole process has taken less than a minute.

The only item on the ballot concerns the construction of new fire and police stations. Town officials say turnout is normally very low in these situations, so they decided to offer drive through voting.

Clerk Deb Beckett says by late morning, participation was already much higher than in previous similar votes. But Beckett says drive though voting won’t work all the time.

(Beckett) “No. It’s a single issue item. It really wouldn’t work on a March town ballot where you’ve got twenty or so candidates plus two or three public questions where you really have to spend five or ten minutes going through the ballot.”

(Zind) Poll workers say they weren’t sure how smoothly the process would work, so they wore roller blades in case they had to skate down a long line of cars to hand out ballots. But by early afternoon, no delays or snags had materialized and voters seemed happy.

(Voter) “It worked just absolutely perfectly.”
(Zind) “Do you think you would have voted today had it not been for this?”
(Voter) “On this issue, probably. But generally I don’t vote for the off-season ones.”
(Voter) “It couldn’t be easier. I was just driving by, pull in, place your vote and you’re on your way.”

(Zind) The protest singer, John Holland, cast his ballot the old fashioned way; by walking into the polling place. He doesn’t care for drive through voting.

(Holland) “When you go to vote, people usually get to talk to each other before they make their vote. This seems a little too much like fast food.”

(Zind) Town Clerk Beckett says she’s had many inquiries since Williston announced it would offer drive through voting – including a call from federal election officials who want to learn more about the idea.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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