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Democrat-led committee writes recount rules for House race won by Republican

By   /   February 15, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

Photo By Michael Bielawski

MAKING UP RULES: Vermont House Government Operations Committee members wrote new rules for a second ballot recount of the contested Orange-1 district House election. The election has already been certified by several town clerks, the secretary of state, and a Washington County Superior Court judge.


MONTPELIER, Vt. — New procedures for a second recount of the Orange-1 district race between Republican Rep. Bob Frenier and Progressive Susan Hatch Davis are headed for a vote in the full House as soon as Thursday.

On Tuesday, the House Government Operations Committee and legislative counsel BetsyAnn Wrask tweaked the rules before committee members approved the recount language 11-0. Only four Republicans sit on the 11-member committee.

The new rules are separate from the standard election rules followed during the Election Day count and the contested election’s first recount.

“There are no rules for the House,” state Rep. Ron Hubert, R-Milton, told Vermont Watchdog. “The House has the right to judge its members upon its own merits; that is what the constitution says.”

If the full House approves the rules, the second recount would likely take place on or near Feb. 22 and finish up in the evening or the following day. A reversal of Frenier’s Election Day victory would all but eliminate the ability of the Republican caucus to sustain vetoes by Republican Gov. Phil Scott.

To overturn Frenier’s certified victory, the House-led recount would have to overcome the seven-vote lead he maintained over Davis after the first recount. The initial count from Election Day had Frenier up by eight votes.

Lawmakers congratulated themselves on working together in a bipartisan manner to finish up the new rules.

“We’ve all had discussions to make this as smooth a process as possible and I think everyone has been very cooperative,” state Rep. John Gannon, D-Wilmington, said to the committee.

The need for a second recount has grown even more controversial after town clerks from Thetford and Fairlee last week criticized Government Operations Committee Chair Maida Townsend for disparaging their work on the first recount. The two clerks said Townsend, a South Burlington Democrat and former chair of the Vermont Democratic Party, never invited them to testify before the committee.

The new rules include a stringent “chain of custody” for obtaining, transporting and storing ballots throughout the recount process.

The recount, which will occur in Room 11 of the Vermont Statehouse, will involve 23 participants from across political parties. The participants will be divided into teams to count ballots and examine voter checklists, among other duties. The memory card for the vote-counting tabulator machine will be programmed by LHS Associates.

Not more than one container of ballots will be open at one time, the committee rules state, and counted votes will be separated from those not yet counted. The public will be allowed a watch the recount process from across the room. Disputes will be decided by a three-person panel made up of a Democrat, a Progressive and a Republican, a 2-1 advantage that favors Davis.

If there is any apparent tampering during the process the recount will be called off and Frenier will remain the elected representative.

“The bottom line is we want everything nice and neat,” Townsend said Tuesday.

House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, told Watchdog he’s concerned about making up new rules when state election rules already exist.

“My concern is if you don’t use the rules from the election and the first recount procedures, then you may get a different outcome just based on those new rules,” Turner said.

House Republicans tried, but failed, to create an amendment that would require the second recount to follow the rules from the first recount.

Turner reminded members that the ballots from the first recount were certified by the secretary of state as well as by a Washington County Superior Court judge. He said that if any additional ballots are discounted or discredited, that could swing the election result.

“All you need is a majority to throw out seven of Frenier’s ballots to say that the voter intent was not clear,” Turner said. “I’m hoping that doesn’t happen, but that’s the reality.”


Michael Bielawski is a freelance reporter for Vermont Watchdog. A Seton Hall 2005 graduate, Bielawski has been writing articles for various publications in and around New York City; Seoul, South Korea; and Vermont. He’s a writer for the Hardwick Gazette, keeping track of rising school budgets and rural Vermont issues. He likes to write about energy and the environment, looking for angles not seen in mainstream media. At home, he’s busy looking after two little boys. During free time, he loves to watch Stanley Kubrick films on Netflix.