The attorney who successfully petitioned Essex Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Mann to stop the town of Victory’s upcoming Selectboard runoff election said Vermont’s lax residency laws are partly to blame for the alleged fraudulent voting in the small Northeast Kingdom community.
Victory, a small village nestled amid thickly forested hills and fields, has a population of 62, as of the 2010 census.
Following a tie on Town Meeting Day, a runoff election between Selectboard candidates Lionel Easter and Otis McKennistry was to have taken place April 5. But a petition by attorney Deborah Bucknam on behalf of client and unsuccessful clerk-treasurer candidate Tracey Martel was submitted March 21 to Essex County Superior Court, and on Tuesday Judge Mann ruled in favor of Bucknam and put on hold on the runoff election.
A new date for the runoff is yet to be determined, and the town’s voter checklist is being examined for ineligible voters.
Martel’s race for Victory’s town clerk-treasurer positions ended in a narrow loss to Carol Easter, one of 19 defendants named in the suit.
Bucknam claims Victory’s voter checklist contains unqualified voters and non-residents, 11 of whom allegedly cast absentee ballots on Town Meeting Day.
“Numerous non-residents who are political allies of the individual defendants have been placed on the voter checklist, and voted by absentee ballot in the March 7, 2017, election,” the complaint states.
The complaint also claims that the defendants engaged in a “massive voter fraud” by placing non-residents on the checklist. Some defendants are alleged to have blocked attempts by members of the Victory Board of Civil Authority to purge illegal voters from the town’s voter list.
Vermont Watchdog spoke with Bucknam about this week’s court hearing and why the runoff election needed to be temporarily halted.
Watchdog: Why was this case brought to Superior Court?
Deborah Bucknam: One reason [is] … Tracey Martel lost the town clerk election by three votes. Another [is]… the absentee ballots didn’t go out in time. If you look at the voting tally, there were 41 absentee ballots cast and 35 in-person cast. … In 2010, there were 63 people in town — men, women and children. Today there are 84 registred voters, plus we know there are 11 school children — that’s 95 people, not including toddlers who are not in school. … It’s not possible. That’s a 50 percent increase.
Watchdog: What about the absentee ballots and the voter checklist mentioned in your petition to the court?
Bucknam: For the March election … [Town Clerk Carol Easter] didn’t get the ballots out in time. You have 20 days before the election to get them out [and] she did not. … She testified [and] her testimony [stated] it was Feb. 22. … Same thing with the April 5 [Selectboard runoff] election. She said it was March 22 — again, 12 days I think. So, she didn’t get the ballots out in time again. But the bigger picture is this checklist which has people on it, like the Flanagans, who live in Connecticut. They are allies of Carol Easter and that crowd.
Watchdog: Your client, Tracey Martel, is alleging voter fraud. She was the candidate who ran against Carol Easter for town clerk-treasurer.
Bucknam: Yes, she lost by three votes. There are other people, for example, who testified. Carol Easter testified … at another hearing, and I have the transcript that Andrea Poginy, who lives in St. Johnsbury … filed an absentee ballot. Pat Mitchell testified [Wednesday] that there were two people, Wayne Mooney and Crystal Gray, who moved out of town in the fall … [that] are on the checklist. And then Carol Easter testified a year ago that Andrea Poginy, who lived in St. Johnsbury, still does. Is she intending to move back?
Watchdog: Poginy intended to move back to Victory, yet intending to move back to a town you formerly lived is not the same as being a resident of that town, correct?
Bucknam: Saying, “I intend to move to Victory, then you can put me on the checklist,” I’m sorry, that’s crazy. … Our laws need to be revised because it’s subject to this kind of corruption. Here they are taking off an actual resident, Ruth Neborsky and her sons, and putting on the checklist someone who lives in Connecticut. They claim they can do it because they “intend” to move up here; that’s what Carol said at one of the hearings. So, they “intend” to move up here? Oh, really? They haven’t been here in four years.
Watchdog: What about the voter checklist?
Bucknam: Walter Neborsky is on the Selectboard. He said [some on] the Board of Civil Authority refused to purge the checklist and walked out so they wouldn’t have a quorum.
Watchdog: It’s difficult to overturn an election in Vermont, yet at Tuesday’s hearing you accomplished exactly what your client, Tracey Martel, set out to do.
Bucknam: What I tried to do in the complaint — and it’s not easy to overturn an election — was to put all the evidence there. Of course … you have to have a hearing and have evidence. But one of the reasons I did it was to see if I could get some of these people to voluntarily leave; you know, take their names off the checklist because some of them, I think, might. … They could potentially get in trouble if they don’t. The statutes are not that good. … Like so many things in Vermont, they’re pretty lax as far as residency is concerned. … As you know college students can register anytime … and homeless people can, [too].
Watchdog: So you feel successful following the Superior Court hearing on Tuesday? And what happens to your client, Tracey Martel?
Bucknam: Yes, our motion for a temporary restraining order was to call off the April 5 election and we accomplished that. … We need to have a revote after the checklist is purged because we think Tracey Martel is going to win.
Lou Varricchio is Vermont bureau chief at Vermont Watchdog.org. You can contact him at [email protected]