And the Non-Participation Trophy Goes To… [UPDATED]

Mollee Gray, who has voted in Vermont elections almost as often as Molly Gray

Wow, Seven Days really dropped a turd in the Molly Gray punchbowl, didn’t they?

The story by Colin Flanders, the most can’t-miss piece of political journalism so far this season, provided a ton of insight into how Gray came (seemingly) out of nowhere to dominate the inside game in the race for lieutenant governor. But in terms of the piece’s political impact, Flanders definitely buried the lede.

The part that has Democratic tongues wagging can be found (by dedicated readers) all the way down in paragraph 27. That’s where Flanders reveals that Gray didn’t cast a ballot in a Vermont election between 2008 and 2018.

(Update. Turns out this wasn’t the scoop I thought it was. On July 21, VTDigger’s Grace Elletson posted a profile piece that reported Gray’s voting record. In all their infinite wisdom, she and her editors consigned this tidbit to paragraph 32. But still, she had it first. Also, I didn’t go into it at the time, but the other revelatory aspect of Flanders’ piece was the through exploration of Gray’s family connections. That went a long way to explaining her rapid political rise. Elletson got into some of this, but not nearly as deeply or clearly as Flanders.)

Now, if Gray missed one or two votes, that could be written off as the preoccupation of a busy young professional. But ten years between votes? That’s a dereliction of a citizen’s duty unbecoming in one who would occupy one of Vermont’s highest political perches. Gray expressed regret for missing so many elections, especially the 2016 race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. “It’s something that I’ve learned from,” she said.

Lamely.

One thing I know for sure: None of the other Democratic LG candidates bothered to do any opposition research. I mean, this didn’t require a deep dive — just basic political prudence. And although oppo research has a bad name, it’s a legitimate aspect of politics. If a candidate, especially one so little-known, has any skeletons in the closet, the voters should know. Hell, Gray’s own campaign should have known about this. All those smart people who signed onto her candidacy should have known about it.

And considering that voting records are, well, public records, I’m surprised it took this long for a reporter to look into Gray’s nonparticipation. But it’s been, for journalists, a seriously compressed campaign season. Coronavirus dominated their work from mid-March on, and the Legislature’s extended session took up the rest of the oxygen.

Lucky break for Gray, who may well have dodged this potentially fatal bullet.

That’s because a huge number of Vermonters have already cast their ballots. As of yesterday, according to the Secretary of State’s office, 137,289 voters have requested absentee ballots for the August 11 election — and 47,827 have already voted.

At this point in 2018, only 17,000 absentee ballots had been cast. In fact, this year’s total is more than 2018 and 2016 combined.

Total turnout two years ago was 108,000, so we’re almost halfway there with two weeks to go. Well, 13 days.

Those figures alone make this a singularly unpredictable primary. Who’s voted? Who hasn’t? Is this good for candidates with more name recognition, such as Tim Ashe? Or for those with an identifiable base, like Brenda Siegel? Or were early voters swayed by Gray’s impressive list of endorsers?

We don’t know. But one thing we do know: The Seven Days article came too late to impact those 48,000 votes already in the books.

Same is true for the press releases, the honk-and-waves, the socially distanced get-togethers, the mailings and the ad buys between now and August 11. For a very sizable chunk of the electorate, it’s already too late.

I ‘m seeing more activity every day, which makes me wonder if candidates and campaigns have caught up to this reality.

But that’s beside the point, which is this: The revelation of Gray’s voting record ought to spark concern among her supporters and the voters. In this unprecedented year, it remains to be seen whether it will have much effect.

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