A controversial recount in the state legislature has split Colchester’s four representatives – and not along party lines.
VTDigger reports the Vermont House of Representatives voted 76 to 59 in favor of a second recount earlier this month, after former Rep. Susan Hatch Davis (P-Washington) asked lawmakers to examine the ballots from the November election in district Orange-1. The last time a recount was conducted for a House race was in 1985.
Election night tallies placed Rep. Bob Frenier (R-Chelsea) just eight votes ahead of Hatch Davis. Supervised by a judge, the recount narrowed Frenier’s lead to seven. With Frenier seated in the House, Hatch Davis then brought her case before her former colleagues, citing a provision in the state constitution.
Colchester town clerk Karen Richard, who also chairs the Vermont Municipal Clerks and Treasurers Association, vehemently opposed the measure and asked lawmakers to vote no in a statement released before the vote.
Richard said ordering a third ballot count would “cast doubt on the integrity of elections in the future.”
Richard also said discussions of a second recount “[were] undermining the integrity of all town and city clerks as will as the justices of the peace that are elected to serve as members of the board of civil authority.”
It’s why Richard said she was especially frustrated to learn Rep. Maureen Dakin (D-Colchester), who chairs the BCA in town, voted in favor of the recount. The board oversees all local elections.
“She justifies it, but I don’t understand the justification,” Richard said of Dakin’s vote. “It seems to be coming from the party.”
But Dakin said her vote was not partisan. Reached last week, Dakin said she was concerned about a couple of “little inconsistencies” in the first two votes and felt a final recount would put the discussions to bed.
Dakin also noted Hatch Davis is a Progressive, not a Democrat, and doesn’t consider members of party “the same team.”
“I don’t have any dog in the fight. It’s not political for me,” Dakin said. “I do not think this has anything to do with whether town clerks did their jobs or not … I think this is the next step in a process that was not going to go away.”
The three other Colchester representatives all voted against the recount. Curt Taylor and Jim Condon, both Democrats, were two of only 13 the Democratic or Progressive party to oppose the measure.
In an emailed statement, Taylor said spoke with Richard before the vote. He said he ultimately decided the recount would be a “waste of time” and distract the lawmakers from other pressing issues.
Rep. Pat Brennan (R-Colchester), also a member of the local BCA, said he suspects many Democrats may have seen the recount as an opportunity to block any future vetoes handed down by Gov. Phil Scott. With Frenier, there are just 53 Republicans in the House; 51 votes are needed to sustain a veto from the executive.
“To me, this whole thing is way more about politics,” Brennan said. “I think the verdict is in.”
But Dakin said she hadn’t even considered that political strategy until after she voted. She said the reasoning also assumes all Independents, Democrats and Progressives will always stick to the same side and cited several recent examples in which that was not the case.
“I respect Maureen, and I respect her position,” Richard said. “I just respectfully disagree.”
Richard spent considerable time in the State House and testified during the committee deliberations, representing town clerks statewide. She said some of the legislators’ recommendations for the rules of the second recount were a “major flag,” like including defective ballots in the count.
While that was eventually scrapped, Richard said she’s not sure any ballot tally conducted by untrained election officials in a legislative body can be truly non-partisan. Under the agreed-upon rules, Richard said, a disputed ballot goes to the committee chair for clarification – a Democrat.
Both Richard and Brennan think the House decision opens the door for a flood of challenges in close elections across the state, all claiming rights to multiple recounts. Brennan pointed to last November’s election on the Colchester ballot, in which Taylor beat out incumbent Joey Purvis by just 27 votes.
Dakin disagreed the decision set any precedent, pointing to the last legislative recount. She knows town clerks have high moral standards, but added, “so do legislators.”
“[Karen is] not happy with me. But we’re not here to make everybody happy. I just happened to arrive at a different conclusion based on the things that were said,” Dakin said. “I want to put this thing to rest.”
At press time, the recount was scheduled to take place in Room 11 at the State House on Wednesday, Feb. 22 and Thursday, Feb. 23.