NEWPORT CITY – The Orleans County recount Thursday shows that more people wrote in industrial wind opponent Annette Smith of Danby as their choice for the Progressive Party nomination for governor than voted for the party’s own candidate, according to a party recount Thursday.
Smith received 80 write-in votes from Orleans County voters, as opposed to 15 for Martha Abbott, whose name was on the ballot, according to one of the 12 people who volunteered to participate in the recount in Orleans Superior Court.
If the trend is repeated in the 13 other counties in Vermont in the recount that continues in some counties today, the stealth campaign by wind opponents to write-in Smith as a Progressive could succeed. That would give Smith a chance to debate Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin over his wind policy.
Smith received 370 write-in votes compared to 371 for Abbott in the Progressive Party primary election on Aug. 28 that has already had more drama than usual for elections in Vermont.
First, the initial tally showed Abbott winning by 17 votes, and then Abbott as planned bowed out of the race because she wants Shumlin to win and keep working toward universal health care.
But then it turned out that the results from Hardwick and Walden were not added in correctly. The Secretary of State and the state canvasing committee recounted the result tallies from each town. That revealed a one-point margin, requiring a statewide recount.
And the drama of this unusual race continued Thursday in the recount in Newport City.
The very first ballot that the volunteers looked at in the Orleans County courtroom left some scratching their heads. An Albany voter had filled in the oval next to Abbott’s name and then wrote “Annette Smith” as a write-in.
Volunteer Peggy Saphire, a Craftsbury Progressive who supports Smith, pulled out her copy of state statutes and said recounters should look at voter intent. The other three people at the table in the recount agreed with her, including Republican Arne Amaliksen of Derby and Democrat Judy Bevans.
But the volunteers could not agree about one other ballot – and that ballot will go to Judge Robert Bent, sitting in Washington County Courthouse, to rule on once all the recounting is complete.
In that ballot, a voter wrote Smith’s name next to Abbott’s name instead of underneath – so “Annette Smith” was written in the next column, in the write-in slot for the state Senate race, Saphire said.
Saphire said she believes that there is a high probability that Smith will win, given that Orleans County with its low population had several questionable ballots that could change the results in a one-vote race.
“It stands to reason this is not the only error,” she said.
Saphire said she is saddened that as many as 15 to 20 people didn’t realize that they had to select the Progressive ballot and instead wrote in Smith’s name on the Republican and Democratic ballots for governor. Those votes in the other parties have no bearing on the results in the Progressive Party race for governor.
Those extra votes would have given Smith the clear win on primary night, she said.
It took the 12 volunteers, led by county clerk Susan Pion and her staff, six hours with a lunch break to go through the primary ballots.
They ran into a question right away because the tallies for Albany as reported by the canvasing committee didn’t add up – the tally of total ballots cast in the GOP primary was written under the Progressive Party line. And the Progressive total was not correct. Pion called the Secretary of State’s office to find out what to do about that.
They counted total ballots, separated out the Democrat and Republican parties’ ballots and focused only on the Progressive ballots.
The volunteers receive $30 for their efforts, Saphire said.
Saphire is an active leader in the Progressive Party and opposed the idea that Abbott was going to withdraw from the race immediately after getting the party nomination in favor of Shumlin.
The party, she said, has a platform that opposes the intrusion of “mega corporations” into small towns, like Green Mountain Power in Lowell, and wants to protect the environment.
Saphire may ask to volunteer again today when the Washington County recount continues in Montpelier, if they need her, she said.
Secretary of State Jim Condos said he didn’t know as of early afternoon if his election specialists had had any other calls about questionable ballots or tallies.
As a former Burlington City councilor, Condos said he is not surprised that results change in recounts.
There are challenges when elections involve write-in candidates and are counted by human hands, and then those results are transcribed by more human hands, Condos said.
“That’s why we have recounts.”