MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A judge on Tuesday ended the recount in the Progressive Party primary for governor, declaring party Chairwoman Martha Abbott the winner over environmental group leader Annette Smith.
Judge Robert Bent of the Washington Superior Court agreed with Smith and her supporters that there appeared to be a small number of irregularities in both the initial count on the night of the Aug. 28 vote and a statewide recount of about 1,000 Progressive ballots last week.
But the judge said even if all disputed ballots were counted for Smith, it would not be enough to close Abbott’s 381-340 edge.
‘‘The ultimate outcome of this recount demonstrates that the vote was not extremely close,’’ Bent wrote. He added that he was ‘‘unable to conclude that any one of the challenged discrepancies, or all of them together, may have affected the outcome of the recount.’’
Despite the ruling, the Progressives will not run a candidate for governor in November. Abbott has withdrawn her candidacy, but under Vermont law that doesn’t make Smith the winner.
It’s the second election cycle in a row that Abbot has run in the primary and then withdrawn, a strategy designed to prevent anyone else for winning the party’s nomination and then running in the general election under its banner. She said the Progressive Party leadership has decided to devote its resources to legislative contests and endorse incumbent Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin for re-election.
Shumlin also won the Progressives’ backing during the 2010 campaign.
Tuesday’s hearing was marked by comments from Bent, Assistant Judge Barney Bloom, Smith and Abbott that ballot counting is done by human beings and is imperfect in nature.
When voters go to the polls in Vermont’s primaries, they are given a choice of voting on the Republican, Democratic or Progressive ballot. Voters get all three, so no one can see which party’s ballot they’re choosing, and they then discard two of the three. The discarded ballots are supposed to be placed in a separate ballot bag.
In at least one instance, a vote for Smith ended up in a discarded ballot bag. But the consensus at Tuesday’s court hearing was that it could not be discerned whether that discarded ballot was marked by someone who decided to vote in one of the other two parties’ primaries, meaning the discarded ballot should not have counted as a vote for Smith.
‘‘I guess I got to say, when you open the bag and all the ballots are unvoted except for one, you might suspect that it was an unvoted ballot bag,’’ Bent said.
After Bent issued his ruling, Abbott put out a statement lauding the outcome and asking for $41 contributions — equal to her margin of victory over Smith — to support Progressive candidates for the Legislature.
Smith has said she'll be a write-in candidate in the general election.