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Auditor’s race recount may take longer than anticipated

By Shay Totten | Vermont Guardian

Posted November 29, 2006

BURLINGTON— The outcome of a statewide recount in the race for Auditor of Accounts might not be known for several weeks, largely due to the volume of ballots to be hand counted in Chittenden County.

Chittenden County Clerk Diane Lavallee told the Guardian she expects the recount to take several weeks, possibly a month, given the large volume of ballots and the holiday season.

“It will depend on the number of people we have counting ballots, but it could take us until the first of the year,” said Lavallee. “Some people who sign up don’t always want to stay for the full day, and only want to come in for a morning or an afternoon, so that also makes it difficult to manage.”

Washington County is setting aside a full two weeks to conduct its recount, said Sandra Holt, chief deputy clerk of the Washington Superior Court.

County officials with the four major parties — Democratic, Liberty Union, Progressive and Republican — have until Friday afternoon to submit the names of volunteer counters to Washington Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout. She will certify the names before the count begins next week. Some counties will begin the recount on Monday, but most will begin on Tuesday.

A recount following the Democratic primary for the Chittenden County Senate race took 118 counters seven consecutive days of work to tally roughly 10,000 ballots, Lavallee said. In the case of the senate race, there were six names to record per ballot, while in the upcoming recount only one name will be recorded per ballot.

Democrat Tom Salmon, Jr., asked Teachout to order the recount on Nov. 15. Only 137 votes separate him and incumbent Republican Randy Brock for the post. The contest was the closest of any of the statewide races. Along with Salmon and Brock, Progressive Martha Abbott garnered 9 percent of the roughly 250,000 votes cast.

This was the first statewide race for Salmon, the son of former Gov. Tom Salmon, is a selectboard member from Rockingham. This was Brock’s first reelection bid, after defeating two-term incumbent Democrat Elizabeth Ready in 2004.

On election night, Salmon called Brock to congratulate him on a narrow victory, which at the time was reported to be about 900 votes, and said he wouldn’t seek a recount. Official votes released a week later by the Secretary of State's office showed Brock's lead had narrowed to 137 votes.

At that time, Salmon told the Guardian that the narrower margin prompted him to rethink asking for a recount. And, after being urged by supporters to do so, he made the request.

“With the new information, nobody faults me for saying that we need to recount the votes. I had too many supporters urging me for a recount and 250,000 voters voted in this race and they deserve to know the outcome,” Salmon told the Guardian at the time “A recount is both reasonable and its appropriate, and those are two unemotional reasons.”

On Monday and Tuesday, state police will deliver the sacks of ballots from each town to the respective county clerk, where recount teams will be assembled. A recount is more onerous than a regular vote tabulation because not only do bipartisan teams count the votes, but there is also a bipartisan teams watching the recount, said Secretary of State Deb Markowitz.

Ballots are counted in batches of 50, and after each batch is counted, the counters and the watchers switch places and the ballots are counted a second time to see if they arrive at the same result. And if they can’t?

“Then they have a problem and they have to go back and figure out why that is,” said Markowitz, whose office has been offering support to county clerks in preparation for next week’s recount. In some cases, there may be a dispute over “voter intent” or if there might have been an erasure, or partial mark made on a ballot.

Despite the large volume in Chittenden County, Markowitz believes the process will be quicker and more productive than the county senate recount in September. She anticipates it could take only two weeks.

“There were a lot of people in that senate recount who had never taken part in a recount before and so they made some mistakes and had to go back and do them over,” said Markowtiz.

But, Markowitz admits it will depend on how many people the parties get to take part.

Jon Copans, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, said the county chairs have taken the lead to find volunteers to help conduct the recount, but said it might not be possible to also find enough volunteers to act as overseers.

“It’s going to take a lot of energy and people to count the ballot themselves, so I’m not sure about that secondary effort to get folks to watch over the recount,” said Copans. “I think it’s a struggle to find volunteers for the recount, especially with the election just getting over and many volunteers wanting to take a break.”

Republicans are also putting out the word, according to Brock, who is anxious to see the process begin and complete as soon as possible.

“I’m sure that the logistics for organizing this for all the parties involved is going to be a challenge,” said Brock.

Once each county completes its recount, it delivers the results to Teachout, who certifies the results. If there are problems raised about the recount, it could end up forcing a whole new election, Markowtiz said.

Abbott, who has spread the word among Progressives statewide, said there may be three to four people in most counties who are interested in taking part of the recount.

But, given the recount is not expected to change the outcome of the race for her, there might not be as much impetus to have the party faithful show up at the courthouse.

The recount will be the first of a statewide race since 1980, in a race between Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, and Stewart Ledbetter, a Republican. Before that, recounts were held in 1962 and 1958.

In 1962, Phil Hoff became the first Democrats ever elected to the governor’s office. At the time, both sides ended up gaining votes in the recount. Hoff picked up 33 additional votes and Republican F. Ray Keyser picked up 18 votes, said Markowitz.

In the 1958 governor’s race a recount took place between Republican Bob Stafford and Democrat Bernard Leddy. Stafford won.

Read earlier article on this topic: Salmon to seek recount in auditor’s race