Vt. election panel certifies new vote tally
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Results from last week’s Progressive Party gubernatorial primary were made official for the second time Thursday, showing that withdrawn candidate Martha Abbot had eked out a 1-vote victory over write-in contender Annette Smith, who immediately requested a recount.
Vermont’s Progressives, a left-leaning third party, had adopted a strategy of running its chairwoman, Abbott, as a placeholder in the primary, while intending not to have a candidate in the general election and to endorse Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin. Abbot said the aim of her primary candidacy was merely to block anyone else from jumping in and winning the party’s nomination.
But that plan may be upended by friends of Annette Smith, a Danby resident and leader of the group Vermonters for a Clean Environment. They mounted a write-in campaign for Smith with the aim of getting her into gubernatorial campaign debates and allowing her to voice criticisms of Shumlin’s environmental policies, particularly his support of mountaintop wind-power development.
Smith initially said she was too busy to campaign and did not want to jeopardize the nonprofit tax status of her environmental group by running for office.
But since the initial primary results showed her losing by 17 votes — with the margin narrowing with the discovery of vote-counting errors — she appears to have warmed to the idea of being a candidate.
After her one-vote loss was made official at a meeting of the state election canvassing committee, she said she would seek a recount.
‘‘I have been led to believe by people in several towns that there votes didn’t turn out. So I'm very interested in an accurate count,’’ Smith said as she walked from the secretary of state’s office to the Washington Superior Court to file her recount request.
The vote results narrowed after some sleuthing through election records by Smith supporter Stephanie Kaplan turned up errors: Seven votes in Walden weren’t properly credited to Smith. Results from Hardwick with nine more votes for Smith were mislaid in the state mail system.
Then there’s the unfilled oval, which could end up being Vermont’s answer to the hanging chad. What do you do with a ballot where someone wrote in Smith’s name, but contrary to the instructions, doesn’t fill in the oval next to it?
After some initial uncertainty, Secretary of State Jim Condos ruled that a ballot with Smith’s name but the oval unfilled would count.
Condos said he hopes the recount requested by Smith can be completed by next week, so the state can get general election ballots printed and mailed to military and other overseas voters by a federal deadline of Sept. 22.
An active Progressive nominee could siphon votes from Shumlin and improve the chances of the Republican nominee, state Sen. Randy Brock, to stage an upset win over the heavily favored Democrat.
The election canvassing committee is made up of the secretary and representatives of parties — including the Progressives — that meet the definition in Vermont law of ‘‘major party.’’ Republican Party Chairman Jack Lindley refused to sign the canvassing report, a move that Condos, a Democrat, said would have no legal effect.
‘‘This entire process has served to cast doubt on the validity, accuracy and accountability of the Secretary of State’s office and the whole election process,’’ Lindley said in a statement. He said Abbot’s withdrawal ‘‘suggests collusion between the Shumlin campaign and the Progressive Party nominee.’’