MONTPELIER – A Vermont judge said Monday a recount in the Progressive Party primary for governor appeared to confirm party Chairwoman Martha Abbott’s victory over environmental group leader Annette Smith.
Judge Robert Bent of the Washington Superior Court said he would review six disputed ballots and issue a final ruling on Tuesday, but as of Monday, the recount had Abbott ahead of Smith by a margin wide enough that the disputed ballots likely won’t matter: 381 to 340.
Bent’s announcement came during an interim court hearing known as a status conference on Smith’s request for a recount.
Meanwhile, Smith said she would be a write-in candidate in the general election.
“There clearly is a need for a candidate to be a candidate of the people. And that’s what I obviously am. I am not a politician,” Smith said.
The Danby resident is executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment. That group formed in the late 1990s to fight a natural gas pipeline extension and power plants in Rutland and Bennington. Since then, the group has been involved in other issues, including organizing opposition to large-scale wind power projects and using the additive chloramine in public water supplies.
Smith has drawn support from opponents to mountaintop wind towers, critics of chloramine and opponents to the use by utilities of digital, wireless smart meters on homes and businesses.
Abbott, an Underhill resident who has a tax preparation business in Burlington, appeared to have won the Aug. 28 primary as of that night by a vote of 371-354. Mistakes uncovered in the following days narrowed that margin to one vote, 371 for Abbott and 370 for Smith, and Smith asked for a recount.
County clerks in Vermont’s 14 counties led recounts that took Thursday and half of Friday. Monday was the first announcement of results from that recount, which widened Abbott’s apparent margin of victory.
Abbott announced before the primary that she would withdraw her candidacy and not run in the November election, instead urging fellow Progressives to support the re-election of incumbent Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin.
It’s the second election cycle in a row that Abbot has run in the primary and then withdrawn, a strategy designed to prevent anyone else for winning the party’s nomination and then running in the general election under its banner. Abbott and other party leaders say they want to focus on winning legislative seats rather than seeking the top job.
Also Monday, the state’s director of elections said she and her boss, Secretary of State Jim Condos, would push in the coming legislative session to get Vermont’s state-office primary moved from late August to May or June. Its presidential primary is in March.
Election officials have scrambled two cycles in a row to get a recount completed in time to meet a federal deadline for getting general election ballots printed and mailed to military and other overseas voters.
Elections Director Kathleen Scheele said the rush to count primary ballots and confirm results sets the system up for errors.
“When staff work 75 or 80 hours (in a week), that’s when mistakes happen,” Scheele said.
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