Vt. lawmakers uphold candidate's one-vote victory

Thursday January 27, 2011

MONTPELIER -- Finally, Sarah Buxton can celebrate. She really did win election to the Vermont Legislature. The voters -- and a judge, and the state attorney general's office, and now lawmakers -- have spoken.

"You're never quite sure that it's really over," she said Thursday. "But we'll be celebrating tonight."

Buxton, a Democrat, eked out a one-vote victory over incumbent Republican state Rep. David Ainsworth in the Nov. 2 election for his seat representing Tunbridge and Royalton.

The official count from the polls was 882-881, but a recount gave each candidate 880 votes. Three weeks after the election, a judge ruled that an overseas voter's disputed ballot was valid and it went to Buxton, breaking the tie.

That didn't settle things, though.

Ainsworth challenged the outcome to the Secretary of State, saying that voters from another district cast ballots and that some votes were lost between the election and the recount. Then the attorney general's office weighed in, investigating his claims before finding no cause to invalidate the results.

On Thursday, lawmakers followed suit. In an 8-3 vote along party lines, the House Government Operations Committee voted to accept Buxton, who had already taken her seat when the Legislature convened for the year Jan. 5. The full House will likely vote on the matter next week, making Buxton's victory official.

Given the Democrats' majority, the committee's vote and Ainsworth's reluctance to continue pursuing the challenge, a vote in his favor seems unlikely.

In testimony before the committee Wednesday, state officials said the House could reject the results of the election but that if that happened, it would result in a vacancy to be filled by Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat.

Lawmakers didn't have the authority to order a new election, which is what Ainsworth wanted.

Ainsworth, 56, a fifth-generation dairy farmer from Royalton, had no illusions about his chances of keeping his seat.

He said last month that getting the Democrat-controlled Legislature to overturn the election of a fellow Democrat was as likely as molasses flowing uphill in winter.

He said Thursday he's giving up the fight, though he plans to run again in two years.

"I don't have any more avenues," said Ainsworth. "I guess their final explanation was that this wasn't an avenue I should've been pursuing anyway. I was hoping to have another election, to let the people have another say in it."

Of Buxton, he said: "She has my condolences for the next two years. It won't be fun being up there. With the budget problems, they're going to have a lot of trouble."

Buxton, a 32-year-old law professor at Vermont Law School, said she hopes the twists and turns of her delayed election prompt changes in law clarifying the process for resolving such disputes.

For now, she's relieved.

"What this did was erase any doubt that the House would take my seat away from me," she said.


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