MONTPELIER — Write-in candidate Annette Smith filed for a recount Thursday, an option made possible after the secretary of state’s office noted errors that jeopardized the official count.
The state canvassing committee met Thursday to change the official vote for the Progressive Party gubernatorial primary. The revision came after Secretary of State Jim Condos said Wednesday that human errors caused mistakes in the total count.
“I’m open to whatever a fair election result is,” Smith said Thursday before the meeting.
Representatives from each of the state’s three major political parties certified the results on Tuesday. The results showed candidate Martha Abbott defeated Smith 371-354.
Tuesday’s 17-vote difference was not close enough to allow Smith to request a recount. A 2 percent difference from the total amount of votes cast is required for a recount to take place, which Smith missed by two votes, according to Tuesday’s count.
But on Thursday, the canvassing committee corrected the official results, a process that Vermont officials may not have done since the early 19th century.
The corrected version changed the result to 371-370, where Smith remained the losing candidate but then became eligible for a recount.
Voting results are unofficial when reported by media and even when they are early totals on the secretary of state’s website. The results become official a week after the primary when the canvassing committee certifies them.
Smith, who founded and leads a Danby-based nonprofit called Vermonters for a Clean Environment, attended the Thursday meeting.
Smith then filed the recount petition in Washington County Superior Court. She said she would have filed the recount petition earlier in the week if the recount had been an option.
The recount process requires a court to administer the process, and election officials examine ballots from sealed ballot bags.
The court may need a representative from the state’s three political parties agree to waive a required five-day waiting period for the recount, said Kathy Scheele, state director of elections and campaign finance.
But Republican Party Chairman Jack Lindley suggested he wouldn’t help obtain that waiver. He said he wanted to cancel his party’s signatures of the certification of winners made Tuesday because of what he called collusion between the Shumlin administration and Progressive Party.
“They have to prove a whole lot of stuff before I waive anything,” he said after the meeting.
Party representatives did not need to sign Thursday’s corrected results because they did not change the outcome of the race, state officials said.
State officials still expect an aggressive timeline for the recount. Some 54,000 or 55,000 ballots could be sorted in four to six hours during the recount to find some 1,000 Progressive Party ballots.
State officials hope election officials complete the recount in time to meet a tight deadline the state needs to print and send military and overseas ballots to town clerks for the general election.
The corrected results came from a revised state tally for the towns of Hardwick and Walden.
In Walden, resident Steven Gorelick said he noticed that only one write-in vote for Smith in his town was showing up on the secretary of state’s unofficial tally online, even though both he and his wife wrote in Smith’s name on ballots.
An email from a town justice of the peace, Roger Fox, confirmed his suspicions that there was more than one write-in vote for Smith.
Gorelick visited the Walden town clerk’s office the day after the primary. He noted the problem to the clerk, bumped into another voter who wrote in Annette Smith’s name on the ballot, then talked with an official in the secretary of state’s office to see if the town could correct the problem, he said.
Town Clerk Lina Smith said she transposed the numbers incorrectly. A corrected tally, which she and another town staffer signed, was faxed and mailed to the secretary of state on Aug. 29.
But the state never had incorporated the corrected tally for the initial certification of winners, according to Stephanie Kaplan, an organizer for the Smith campaign. The state’s correction on Thursday added seven write-in votes for Walden’s official count.
Kaplan had raised issues during the Tuesday meeting when the primary winners were certified, repeatedly voicing concerns that several write-in ballots had issues.
She visited the secretary of state’s office on Wednesday with two other supporters and found a cover sheet tally from Walden. She said she noted the discrepancy to the state, which then met and determined the need to correct the certified vote count for the Progressive Party gubernatorial primary.
Condos, the secretary of state, said he wanted to make sure every vote counted.
For the town of Hardwick, the state originally recorded zero votes for the Annette Smith write-in total because of a difficult-to-read fax, Condos said.
Kaplan also wanted to see Hardwick’s tally sheet, and state officials obtained the mailed-in copy, which showed the zero was actually a nine, Condos said.
Fox, the justice of the peace for Walden, likened the situation to a “perfect storm,” where a small issue can compound with others.
Former state archivist Gregory Sanford said to his knowledge the only other time Vermont had an issue with the certification of ballots was in the early 19th century.
The gubernatorial election in 1813 had the canvassing committee reject some 250-plus votes from Colchester, which caused the vote to go to the General Assembly.
Had the canvassing committee kept the votes, incumbent Gov. Jonas Galusha would have kept the position, but without those votes, neither candidate had a 50 percent majority needed, archivist Scott Reilly said.
Challenger Martin Chittenden became governor by one vote in the General Assembly.
Sanford said fierce party politics divided government then, similar to today where people believe if the candidate who wins the election is not from one’s political party, “Armageddon will happen.”
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