I got to the Winooski polls at 6:20 a.m. and was glad I did. A woman in a headscarf pulled into the parking lot in front of me in and rushed out toward the Winooski Senior Center, eager to cast her vote.
Unfortunately, the polls in Winooski don't open until 7 a.m., so she was out of luck. I could tell she was really disappointed, so I pulled out my notebook and interviewed her.
Her name is Houda Musanovic. She was born in Morocco, and became a U.S. citizen in 2007. She voted in the primary election in September, but this was to be her first time voting in a U.S. presidential election. Now it looks like she won't be able to vote.
Musanovic works as a dental assistant, and was going to vote on her way to work. She has to go to her other job in the afternoon, and said she won't be finished with her work until 8 p.m. That's too late. The polls close at 7. "I can't come back before then," she said, shaking her head. "I have other stuff I need to go do."
Musanovic says she heard on TV that polls in Vermont opened at 6 a.m. "I was so excited!" she said. She got up early to vote. "My husband said, 'you're late! you're late!"
Who was she supporting? "What does it matter?" she said, sounding resigned. "My vote won't count now."
Winooski resident Jennifer Ellis was in a similar bind. Ellis cruised into the parking lot at 6:30 a.m. and headed for the door, only to find out the polls weren't open. She, too, had heard that polls were opening at 6 a.m. in Vermont.
Ellis carpools to work in Montpelier. "I don't know if I'll be able to find a ride home," she said.
Bill Brassard, who arrived around 6:15 a.m., was first in line to vote in Winooski. He came early so he wouldn't have to wait later in the day. Brassard said he'd also heard on TV that polls were open at 6 a.m. Some stations were reporting that some polls in Vermont opened at 5 a.m. "That's gonna make a lot of people unhappy," he said.
Why all the confusion? It's true — two polling places in Vermont do open at 5 a.m. Both of them are in Bennington. And a polling place in Huntington opens at 6:30 a.m. But the vast majority of polling places open at 7 a.m. or later. Some don't open until 10 a.m. In Vermont, poll opening times vary by town. A complete list of opening times can be found at the Vermont Secretary of State's website. Find the downloadable PDF file at the bottom of this post.
But the opening times aren't exactly easy to find on the website. And the information can, in fact, be confusing — if you're not paying close attention. A poll opening time article from TIME Magazine says, in Vermont, "polls open between 6 and 10 a.m."
Kathy DeWolfe, Vermont Director of Elections and Campaign Finance, admits that there is some confusion about poll opening times. Reached at her desk at 7:45 a.m. (she's on the job early today!), she said that it's difficult to get the correct information to voters here because so many people are tuned in to the national media, which doesn't do a good job of reporting Vermont's idiosyncratic poll opening times.
And it's not just the national media. "We have a terrible time with New Hampshire radio," she said. In New Hampshire, all the polls open at the same time. So Vermonters who are listening to radio stations broadcasting from across the border might not be getting good local info.
DeWolfe notes that the correct poll opening times for each town are posted on the Secretary of State's website, and are often available on town websites, and always available if voters call their local town offices. "We do everything we can," she said.
That might not be enough for Musanovic and Ellis. Too bad they didn't vote early.