Recount ends after ballot discrepancy found

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MONTPELIER — More than three months after the last vote was cast, Vermont's election season appears to be finally over.

Republican Robert Frenier's state House seat is safe after a second recount effort, this time in the Vermont House, came to a sudden halt Wednesday morning. The recount of a race between five-term incumbent progressive Susan Hatch Davis and Frenier was stopped on a technicality moments after it began.

About two dozen lawmakers met to begin the recount Wednesday morning at the Vermont Statehouse. Recount leaders then announced that a bag containing ballots from Chelsea, Vermont, had a different identification number than was expected, which under House rules amounts to a "tampering" violation and ends the process.

The House adopted special rules for the recount, and three lawmakers led the process: Republican Minority Leader Don Turner, Progressive Robin Chesnut-Tangerman and Democrat Maida Townsend.

"These were the rules that we agreed on and if the numbers did not match, it's over," said Chesnut-Tangerman.

The term "tampering" was interpreted broadly to mean any changes to the ballot bags. The entire process was lawful, and there is no indication anyone was trying to steal the election, according several lawmakers present during the brief recount process.

The Vermont Secretary of State generally oversees elections in Vermont, but this was a special recount run by lawmakers and allowed by Vermont's constitution.

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"The recount was their decision to make, not ours, we didn't support it," said Secretary of State Jim Condos.

Condos and his election chief, Will Senning, were watching from the sidelines. A ballot bag's identification number is changed whenever the bag is opened, Condos explained. The number was changed when a clerk opened the bag to retrieve a checklist, he said.

"This was not a tampering issue. This was just a clerk who needed to get her participation report completed and went through the accurate steps," Condos said.

The drawn-out recount process is fueling calls to fix Vermont's recount laws, which lawmakers from both sides of the aisle say needs work.

Turner said residents in the district got the representative they voted for.

"And those votes had been counted, and confirmed, and recounted, and confirmed," Turner said.

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said after the botched recount she is looking for a bill that would make recount laws clearer and fairer.

"The intent was to make sure things were done correctly. All of this highlighted deficiencies in recount law," Johnson said.


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