Undecided voters in Bristol cite unhappiness with political system

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(Host)  The presidential candidates have been in battleground states looking for independent voters who haven’t made up their minds, yet.

But in Vermont, where early voting began two weeks ago, many voters have already made their decisions. VPR has been speaking with voters around the state this fall.

In today’s special report, Steve Delaney went in search of the still-undecided voter.

(Raycroft-Meyer) "This town that I live in is a pretty unique town, there’s a lot of people who’ve been here for generations, and I don’t know if I’m typical. I don’t know if there is a typical Vermont voter.” 

(Delaney) This town that Katie Raycroft -Meyer lives in is Bristol, in northern Addison County. In recent elections this town has mirrored Vermont in top-of-the ballot elections. John Kerry over George Bush four years ago and Al Gore over Bush eight years ago.

Katie and her husband own a business here, and worry about taxes and war and the economy. She says she tries to weigh the candidates for president objectively.

(Raycroft-Meyer) "I really, really try to listen to both sides, because it bothers me that so many people don’t.” They just decide on things and they stick to it. So I really try. I’ve watched every debate, and I try to get as much as I can."

(Delaney) “When you listen, what did you hear that moved you from one column to the other?”

(Raycroft-Meyer) "Nothing recently, I’ve stayed in the same column.”

(Delaney)  "OK, you went into the debates, for example with a pre-disposition to support Obama. And you still have that?”

(Raycroft-Meyer) “Yes.”

(Delaney) “What is it about him that gives you more comfort than McCain?”

(Raycroft-Meyer) “I feel like I can trust him more.” 

(Delaney) Trust is a quality voters look for in candidates, but don’t always find. Cliff Adams sips coffee in a building he once owned, and says he just doesn’t trust the political system, period. The parties, he says, are the left and right wings of the Big Business party, and he’s thinking about voting for Ralph Nader.

 (Adams) "If I were to put numbers on it, probably a 40 percent chance I would vote for Obama, a 40 percent chance for Nader, and a 19 percent chance for undecided.”

(Delaney) "That doesn’t leave McCain very much.”

(Adams) "You know, I think John McCain’s a nice guy, but, uh, he’s somebody that’s tried to stay in line, wants to be president, I think he’d be a dangerous President, I think his vice president would be not only dangerous but irresponsible. My opinion.” 

(Delaney) Cliff Adams, undecided in the last half of October, is not alone in Bristol. Mike Martinez serves up coffee at the Almost Home Market. He says a lot of his customers are frustrated.

(Martinez) "They’re not really happy with anybody right now, and they’re just hoping that whoever gets the job will do it right.” 

(Delaney) "Have you decided what you’re going to do?”

(Martinez) “Um, in all honesty, probably not vote.” 

(Delaney)  "What would it take to put you in the voter’s booth?”

(Martinez)  “Hmm. Probably a complete change in our political system, I’m not really happy with either party. I think both of them have gone too far, and it’s really hard to back away from it.” 

(Delaney)  Mike Martinez says, initially, he was inspired by Barack Obama’s visionary speeches, but he thinks that, lately, his early choice has begun to sound like just another politician.

Whether they’re drawn to the polls by devotion to their candidate or by dread of the other one, or simply by a sense of duty, there’s no doubt that Bristol, like most other Vermont towns, is going to vote in huge numbers on November 4th.  Town Clerk Therese Kirby is saying 2,000 voters may turn out. She’s already processed 200 early ballots. That’s more votes than were cast in the primary election last month.

(Kirby2) "We have had a lot of people coming in to register to vote. Either to verify that they’re on the checklist or to come in because they’ve never voted, or they’ve lived in Bristol for a few years but they’ve never bothered to change their voting registration, say, from another town to this town. So we…I’ve really been surprised how hard we’ve been hit with that. But it’s good, it’s great. The process is wonderful, it bothers me when people say their vote doesn’t count. Yes your vote counts. You’re part of a democracy and voting is your responsibility.”

(Delaney) A few feet from this crossroads, farmers once put up hay in empty storefronts. Downtown is now far too busy for that, full of people whose votes may very well reflect the statewide results on election night. Here, that probably means a good night for Obama.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Delaney in Bristol.

Other stories in this series:

White River Junction voters react to economic woes

Palin Effect hasn’t taken hold in Vermont

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