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Vermont official: Errors in Progressive Party count

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos said Wednesday errors were made in the counting of write-in votes in the Progressive Party gubernatorial primary and the new results mean the challenger can ask for a recount.

Annette Smith, who had not campaigned before the primary but was backed by a group of activists critical of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s environmental policies, said she would ask for a recount if results to be made final Thursday show her losing by a narrow margin.

Wednesday’s news added a new round of drama to a primary voting process that already had seen the reported Progressive nominee, Martha Abbott, withdraw from the race for governor after being declared the winner of the primary. Abbott said she wanted to throw her party’s support to Shumlin, a Democrat who shares the Progressives’ positions calling for single-payer health care and the closing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

Calais-based lawyer Stephanie Kaplan had led an effort to draft Smith, the Danby-based executive director of the group Vermonters for a Clean Environment, into the Progressive gubernatorial primary. Kaplan and her allies had said they wanted Smith to bring their issues – including strong opposition to mountaintop wind power development – into gubernatorial debates during the general election campaign.

Smith had said before the primary that she was not actively campaigning, because she was too busy working on her environmental issues and feared a political candidacy could jeopardize the nonprofit tax status of her group.

Since the Aug. 28, primary, though, Smith has been saying she wants to ensure that the vote was fair. On Wednesday, she said an error reported by the town of Walden but not initially accounted for in tallies issued by the secretary of state’s office likely would prompt her to seek a recount.

Condos’ announcement on Wednesday came a day after his office issued official results for the primary held a week earlier. That came at the conclusion of a meeting of an official canvassing committee that certifies election results.

Kaplan had attended that meeting and tried to raise questions about the votes reported from Walden but was rebuffed by Kathleen Scheele, the director of the elections division in Condos’ office. She said she went to the secretary of state’s office on Wednesday, checked election records again and pressed the issue further.

The town clerk’s office in Walden was closed late Wednesday afternoon, and officials there could not be reached.

Kaplan’s inquiries on Wednesday prompted Condos to take the extraordinary step of calling an emergency meeting of the canvassing committee for Thursday at 4 p.m.

“In the rush to complete the August 28th primary canvassing report over the long holiday (Labor Day) weekend, human errors were made in the calculation of write-in votes for the Progressive Gubernatorial race,” Condos said in a statement.

He said the new tally appeared to bring Smith close enough that she is legally eligible to ask for a recount, adding that he hoped a recount could be accomplished quickly so ballots for the November election could be printed by Sept. 21. That’s the federal deadline for mailing them to military and other overseas voters.