2017-02-16 / Front Page

Front Page Editorial

Why a Third Recount in Orange County 1?

Keeping the Vote Sacred

By Representative Bob Frenier


Democrats and Progressives in the Vermont legislature are about to override a local election that was conducted correctly and lawfully by experienced town clerks and certified by a Vermont court. They are using the legislature’s constitutional authority to rule on the “qualifications and elections” of its members to override the election of a Republican by counting the votes in the Orange-1 District for a third time.


There are several troubling aspects to this. One is that the original vote count wasn’t all that close and the closely supervised recount changed only one vote. The original hand or tabulator vote count in the six towns of the Orange-1 District showed Republican challenger Bob Frenier won the election with 1853 votes while incumbent Progressive Susan Hatch Davis received only 1845 votes. An all-tabulator recount and court certification process showed Davis’ vote remained unchanged at 1845 while Frenier lost one vote and got 1852. Why is a third count needed?


Another sobering element is the re-recount will be done by legislators themselves, not election professionals, and according to rules of the majority party’s own making, not according Vermont election statutes. The majority party specifically rejected a minority party amendment that would have required any further vote counting to be conducted according to Vermont law. The partisan nature of that decision offers Vermonters no constitutional or statutory assurances the will of Orange-1 voters will be respected.


In her report to the legislature, Government Operations chair Maida Townsend (D-South Burlington) said the main reason for wanting a third count of the votes was that, BEFORE ballots were inserted into the tabulator, they had not been inspected for stray marks on the paper that might have altered the tabulators legendary reputation for accuracy. She ignored the fact that state law requires such inspections AFTER the tabulator count and she presented no evidence to the full House that any stray marks even existed.


Thetford Town Clerk Tracy Borst disputed Rep. Townsend’s allegations in a letter to House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and other state officials. “The ballots were viewed first, as they went into the tabulator, then either viewed a second time for voter intent, or counted (viewed) a second and third time if they were in the hand count pile. Visual inspection is certainly part of our procedures.”


The impact of this fact-free legislative decision to interfere in Vermont’s non-partisan election process will be considerable for some time to come unless House Democrats reconsider. What losing candidate in a future close election will accept the outcome of a court certified recount if they can address their grievances to their party colleagues in the legislature, even if no meaningful procedural errors can be cited?


More importantly, how can Vermont voters be guaranteed their votes will always be counted in a fair and non-partisan way if this third counting of the ballots in Orange-1 is allowed to be conducted for spurious reasons by legislators who voted along party lines to ignore existing law when they count votes? Alexander Hamilton said, “This great source of free government, popular election, should be perfectly pure, and the most unbounded liberty allowed.” Our own Vermont constitution has similar sentiments: “That all elections ought to be free and without corruption...”


But based on a sloppy investigation that misrepresented crucial facts, the Vermont House of Representatives has chosen along party lines to override a court-certified election result. So their new vote count will be neither “perfectly pure” nor guaranteed to be conducted “without corruption.” Since all the traditional safeguards have been removed, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson needs to review all the facts and put a stop to this before real damage is done to Vermont’s sacred tradition of non-partisan elections.


Contact: Bob Frenier

1-802-222-7087

bobfrenier@myfairpoint.net



Bob Frenier is a newly elected Representative to the VT House from the Orange-1 district. A Chelsea area resident since 1992, he is an active trustee of the Chelsea Health Center and a former volunteer firefighter/EMT.


FROM THE CLERKS WHO DID THE COUNTS

As you may know, we were Election Officials for the District Orange 1 recount that took place on November 21, 2016 at the Orange County Court House.  We are deeply concerned that the officials that conducted the recount for District Orange 1 were not invited to testify in the House Government Operations committee.

Lisa Eastman, County Clerk, organized the recount; she called us to assist with this recount as election officials. We are both trained, experienced tabulator officials, and neither one of us are from the Orange 1 district. The others present were Bill Huff; Chair of the Board of Civil Authority in Thetford, in addition to election assistants from each of the Orange 1 district towns.  Mike Carlson; LHS Associates, was present to assist with any tabulator questions. LHS services the tabulators and programs the memory cards that are used in the tabulator.

Representative Maida Townsend, Chair of House Government Operations Committee was quoted in VT Digger as saying:

“We know if the visual inspection is not paired with the tabulator, it is possible that votes may have been missed,” she said. “We just want to be very, very careful.”

This is what actually happened at the recount:

  • The voted ballots were removed from ballot bags, placed into piles of 50.  They were placed top down (back side of the ballot viewed) and then turned over (front side up) and fed into the tabulator one at a time – this allowed for visual inspected by the election officials, the tabulator official and the election assistants. 
  • The two of us (Town Clerks) took turns feeding the ballots into the tabulator machine. There was not forcing of ballots into the machine.
  • If a ballot was unreadable by the tabulator, as indicated on the readout, it was set aside for hand counting.  As each ballot was inserted into the tabulator, the ballot number advanced and was easily read on the readout as a counted ballot.
  • After all ballots for the town had been fed into the tabulator, the ballots were removed from the tabulator ballot box and  were distributed to teams that were balanced (Dems and Republicans) to be visually inspected for any mark that could represent voter intent that the machine couldn’t possibly pick up, i.e. A name circled but no oval colored in.  This was the second visual screening of all ballots.
  • Three ballots were pulled by the balanced counting team(s) to be determined by the judge.
  • The results of votes counted, by tabulator printout, at the recount was compared to the results of the Town’s Official Return of Votes (OVRs) from the town count; with the exception of the one additional vote from one town’s ballots, they all balanced. 

 

The ballots were viewed first, as they went into the tabulator, then either viewed a second time for voter intent, or counted (viewed) a second and third time if they were in the hand count pile. Visual inspection is certainly part of our procedures.

In my opinion, the recount team did their due diligence, followed procedures, and confirmed the results.  Representative Townsend is mistaken if she believes the ballots were not visually inspected in the recount process.  This all could have been clarified if the officials that conducted the recount had been invited to testify.

Respectfully,

Tracy Borst

Thetford Town Clerk

 

Georgette Wolf-Ludwig

Fairlee Town Clerk

Patti Lewis's Take


As I reported in my previous article, The House Government Operations Committee, by a partisan majority vote, sent the HR.8 Resolution (Contested Orange-1 House race) to the floor.  On Wednesday, February 1st , the Resolution was debated for hours, many amendments were offered, but the Resolution essentially remained the same.  Following is the script of my Minority Report.  I don’t mention specific names in the report, because we are not supposed to use names on the House floor during debates.  I reference the” Petitioner” – Susan Hatch Davis; “Seated Member” – Robert Frenier:

“I OFFER THE FOLLOWING MINORITY REPORT REGARDING HOUSE RESOLUTION 8.  THE FACTS NEED TO BE STATED SO IT CAN BE UNDERSTOOD WHY THE REPUBLICAN MINORITY PARTY REPRESENTATION ON THE HOUSE GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS COMMITTEE OPPOSE ANY AFFIRMATIVE ACTION ON THIS RESOLUTION.

LET ME STATE THE FACTS

FACT:  THE GENERAL ELECTION WAS HELD ON NOVEMBER 8, 2016; AND

FACT THE SEATED MEMBER SECURED THE SECOND HIGHEST VOTES, 1,853, IN THE ORANGE-1 HOUSE DISTRICT

FACT:  THE PETITIONER FINISHED THIRD IN A TWO SEAT DISTRICT WITHT 1,845 VOTES, NOT ENOUGH TO SECURE HER RE-ELECTION

FACT:  THE SECRETARY OF STATE CERTIFIED THE ELECTION RESULTS, CONFIRMING THAT THE REPRESENTATIVE FROM WILLIAMSTOWN FINISHED FIRST; AND THE SEATED MEMBER FROM CHELSEA FINISHED SECOND AND DECLARED THE WINNERS OF THE ORANGE-1 DISTRICT HOUSE RACE

FACT:  THE PETITIONER THEN FILED FOR A RECOUNT

FACT:  THE RECOUNT WAS CONDUCTED AND THE RSULTS CERTIFIED ON NOVEMBER 28, 2016.  

FACT:  THE RESULTS OF THE RECOUNT CONFIRMED THE PETITIONER’S VOTE COUNT AT 1,845, THE EXACT SAME NUMBER AS THE GENERAL ELECTION

FACT:  THE RESULTS OF THE RECOUNT CHANGED THE SEATED MEMBER FROM CHELSEA’S VOTE COUNT TO 1,852, ONE LESS THAN THE GENERAL ELECTION; AND WAS CONFIRMED BY THE VERMONT SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE, ORANGE UNIT

FACT:  THE PETITIONER AGAIN ASKED THE COURT TO PRESENT EVIDENCE RELATING TO THE RECOUNT, AND A HEARING PURSUANT TO 17 V.S.A. S/S 2602J(C) WAS HELD ON December 19, 2016

FACT:  THE OUTCOME OF THE RECOUNT AND THE SUBSEQUENT HEARING HELD CONFIRMED THE NUMBER OF VOTES AS FOLLOWS:   THE REPRESENTATIVE FROM WILLIAMSTOWN – 2,015; THE SEATED MEMBER FROM CHELSEA – 1,852; THE PETITIONER – 1,845 AND THE FOURTH CANDIDATE - 1,006;  THE SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE, ORANGE UNIT ISSUED A JUDGMENT CONFIRMING THE RESULTS AND FOLLOWING CANDIDATES ARE DECALRED THE WINNERS IN THE GENERAL ELECTION FOR STATE REPRESENTATIVES FOR DISTRICT ORANGE-1:  THE MEMBERS FROM WILLIAMSTOWN AND CHELSEA, RESPECTIVELY

FACT:  ON OR ABOUT DECEMBER 19, 2016, THE PETITIONER DECIDED TO CONTEST THE RESULTS OF THE RECOUNT AND FILED A PETITION WITH THE SECRETARY OF STATE, WHO FORWARDED IT TO THE ATTORNEY GENERAL.


PLEASE KEEP IN MIND THE FOLLOWING:  THE GENERAL ELECTION WAS CONDUCTED AS FOLLOWS:

CHELSEA, CORINTH, ORANGE, VERSHIRE AND WASHINGTON BALLOTS WERE COUNTED BY HAND

WILLIAMSTOWN BALLOTS WERE COUNTED BY TABULATOR

THE SUBSEQUENT RECOUNT WAS COUNTED BY TABULATOR.  

FACT:  THERE WERE 4,406 VOTERS CHECKED OFF ON THE CHECKLIST ON         ELECTION DAY

FACT:  THERE WERE 4,406 BALLOTS IN THE GENERAL ELECTION

FACT:  THERE WERE 4,406 BALLOTS IN THE RECOUNT

         THE EXACT SAME NUMBER IN BOTH COUNTS

THE PROPONENTS OF THIS RESOLUTION WOULD LIKE YOU TO BELIEVE THE PROCESS MAY HAVE BEEN FLAWED. HOWEVER, THE FACTS SHOW BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT, BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT, THAT THE VOTE COUNTS REMAINED ESSENTIALLY THE SAME, CONFIRMING THE ACCURACY OF BOTH THE GENERAL ELECTION AND THE RECOUNT.

LET ME REAFFIRM THE RECOUNT NUMBERS:

    REPRESENTATIVE FROM WILLIAMSTOWN –      2,015

        REPRESENTATIVE FROM CHELSEA –        1,852

    PETITIONER – 1,845

    FOURTH CANDIDATE –    1,006

ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE SESSION, THE REPRESENTATIVE FROM MIDDLETOWN SPRINGS ROSE FOR A POINT OF ORDER, REQUESTING THE MEMBER FROM CHELSEA NOT BE SEATED OR SWORN IN  DUE TO THE CONTESTED ELECTION.    THE VERMONT SECRETARY OF STATE, THE PRESIDING OFFICIAL, STATED THAT THE MEMBER FROM CHELSEA WAS DULY ELECTED AND WAS ENTITLED TO BE SWORN IN AND TAKE HIS SEAT IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES.

FACT:  IN 2011, WHEN THE HOUSE RACE FOR WINDSOR-ORANGE 1 DISTRICT (TUNBRIDGE/ROYALTON) WAS DECIDED IN A RECOUNT WHICH DETERMINED THAT THE MEMBER FROM TUNBRIDGE WAS THE WINNER BY ONE VOTE OVER THE MEMBER FROM ROYALTON, THE HOUSE GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS COMMITTEE REPORTED TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES THAT THEY CONFIRMED THE ONE VOTE VICTORY AND DUE TO THE FACT THE MEMBER FROM TUNBRIDGE WAS ALREADY SWORN IN AND SEATED, THAT THEY WOULD NOT RECOMMEND “UNSEATING” HER.

NOW… HERE WE ARE, SIX YEARS LATER HAVING A SIMILAR DISCUSSION.  BUT LET’S BE VERY CLEAR; THE FACTS AS STATED CANNOT BE DISPUTED. THE REPRESENTATIVE FROM CHELSEA IS THE CLEAR VICTOR IN THE ORANGE-1 CONTESTED HOUSE RACE AND HAS EVERY RIGHT TO BE A MEMBER OF THIS BODY.

WE MAY HEAR COMPELLING ARGUMENTS THAT CERTAIN “DEFECTIVE” BALLOTS SHOULD BE CONSIDERED.  HOWEVER, THE FACTS SHOW THAT DEFETIVE BALLOTS HAVE NEVER BEEN CONSIDERED IN ANY ELECTION OR RECOUNT.  LET ME REITERIATE:  DEFECTIVE BALLOTS HAVE NEVER BEEN CONSIDERED IN ANY ELECTION OR RECOUNT.  

VERMONT STATUTE, TITLE 17, SUBSECTION 2547 CLEARLY STATES THE DEFINITION OF A DEFECTIVE BALLOT AND THOSE BALLOTS ARE NOT TO BE CONSIDERED IN THE ELECTION RESULTS…EVER

FACT:  TESTIMONY OFFERED BY EACH OF THE TOWN CLERKS IN THE ORANGE-1 DISTRICT, CONFIRMED THEIR ACCURATE HANDLING OF “EARLY ABSENTEE VOTER BALLOTS” TO BE DEEMED DEFECTIVE.  THERE WAS NO QUESTION AT THE END OF THOSE TESTIMONIES THAT WOULD INDICATE ANY CONTRARY OPINION.

IN CONCLUSION, THE REPUBLICAN MINORITY PARTY OF THE HOUSE GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS COMMITTEE STATES THAT THE FACTS PRESENTED ARE CLEAR, CRYSTAL CLEAR.  THE REPRESENTIVE FROM CHELSEA IS THE CLEAR WINNER OF THE ORANGE-1 CONTESTED HOUSE DISTRICT.  THE FORMER REPRESENTATIVE FROM WASHINGTON HAS NOT SUBSTANTIALLY PROVIDED OR PRODUCED ANY EVIDENCE TO COMPEL THIS BODY TO RULE IN ANY OTHER MANNER.

THE BURDEN OF PROOF RESTS ON THE PETITIONER.  IT IS OUR CONCLUSION THAT SHE HAS NOT PROVIDED ANY CLEAR AND CONCISE EVIDENCE TO CHANGE THE OUTCOME OF THIS ELECTION.

IT IS OUR DUTY TO DO THE RIGHT THING.  THE HONEST THING…THE CORRECT THING.  TO VOTE IN ANY OTHER MANNER IS A TRAVESTY TO THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS.  IT SHEDS DOUBT ON OUR VERMONT TOWN CLERKS AND ELECTION OFFICIALS, AND THE PROCESS AND PROCEDURES THEY FOLLOW.  IT SHEDS DOUBT THAT EVERY VOTE MATTERS…IT SHEDS DOUBT THAT YOUR VOTE IS YOUR VOICE…

THIS SHOULD NOT BE A PARTISAN ISSUE… IT SHOULD BE AN ISSUE OF BLACK AND WHITE, RIGHT AND WRONG, CLEAR AND CONCISE

THE ENTIRE STATE, OUR CONSTITUENTS ARE WATCHING AND LISTENING.  WE SHOULD NOT BE QUESTIONING THE WILL OF THE VOTERS.  THEY ARE WHO WE REPRESENT AND IF WE CROSS THEM, WE WILL NOT BE HERE IN THE FUTURE TO REPRESENT THEM.  KEEP THAT IN MIND

I URGE THIS BODY TO LISTEN TO THE FACTS, THE UNDISPUTED FACTS, AND RULE THE REPRESENTATIVE FROM CHELSEA IS THE CLEAR WINNER OF THE ORANGE-1 CONTESTED HOUSE DISTRICT, BY DEFEATING THIS RESOLUTION.”

RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED,

THE REPUBLICAN MINORITY MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS COMMITTEE.

REP. PATTI J. LEWIS, BERLIN/NORTHFIELD

The Resolution passed and the House will now proceed with developing the recount process, rules and procedures.  Below is the link to view the outcome of the roll call vote.

http://legislature.vermont.gov/assets/Documents/2018/Docs/JOURNAL/hj170201.pdf

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