BENNINGTON -- The possibility of "election rigging" was discussed by the Bennington Rural Fire Department's Prudential Committee at a meeting Tuesday, nearly a week before its annual meeting when voters in the rural district will elect chiefs, committee members, and decide on a $394,300 budget.
"It's been brought to my attention that there's election rigging going on," said Bennington Rural Fire Department Clerk Lexie Vincelette. "People who do not live in the district are now going down to the Town Clerk's Office and changing their address to an address in the rural."
The annual meeting will be held Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. at the Willow Road Fire House, located on Orchard Road near Molly Stark Elementary School. The meeting is open to the public, but only those residing in the Bennington Rural Fire Department (BRFD) district can vote.
Chiefs and committee members are nominated from the floor.
"Since there is election rigging going on, if for some reason Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck run against each other, and Donald Duck has Goofy going out and getting all his little puppets together to go vote for Donald Duck, Mickey get word of that and, for some reason there is eight people that went changed their address and it comes out to a vote of seven, Mickey Mouse can then turn around and say, ‘Oh, stop the elections, this was election rigging.' It goes into court," Vincelette said.
She said she also notified the Vermont Attorney General's Office and the Vermont Secretary of State.
"If people are stupid enough to do that and possibly get caught, have at it," said Prudential Committee Chairman Steve Bruso. He asked Vincelette to post a sign at the firehouse door the night of the meeting stating what the law is and the consequences of breaking it.
"One blatantly said it right out here the other night," said Vincelette. "That he changed his address. So it was said right in front of me. A handful are doing it to sway the vote."
Assistant Fire Chief John Scutt said he had heard the same thing and had intended to bring it up, however Vincelette spoke first.
Bennington Town Clerk Tim Corcoran said Wednesday that when the town learns a person has changed their address, either via a property transfer or when they come in to renew a dog license, the town sends a "challenge letter" asking them to verify their address. State law requires the town do this when a registered voter does not vote for two consecutive general elections.
When registered voters show up at the polls, a worker confirms their address, Corcoran said. If they have moved and had not notified the town prior, it is noted.
Corcoran said no challenge letters have been sent because of the matter with the BRFD. He said his office will not do that without being shown some evidence of fraud, which it has not seen.
Will Senning, director of elections for the Secretary of State's Office, said if a person were to knowingly falsely claim they lived inside the fire district when they did not, that would fall under the general perjury statute, which is punishable by not more than 15 years in prison and a $1,000 fine if a person is convicted. There are other state laws bearing lesser fines should a person knowingly give false information on a document that could be reviewed by the town's Board of Civil Authority.
Senning said such complaints would have to be made to the BCA, which could then decide to send challenge letters if it felt enough evidence had been presented to it to question a person's address.
He said how this matter has been handled in other places is that the person checking voters at in at the polling place can request the person sign an affidavit verifying their address. Senning said most simply sign it because they live where they say they live, but he has heard stories of people walking away when presented with the affidavit.
After the election, there will be a 15-day period where the results can be challenged in Vermont Superior Court Civil Division.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.