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Vt. House Hears Case For Recount

  • Susan Hatch Davis

  • Bob Frenier



VtDigger
Saturday, January 21, 2017

Montpelier — A former Orange County lawmaker and the Chelsea Republican a judge ruled defeated her by seven votes sat only feet apart in a cramped Statehouse conference room for the past two days as a panel of legislators tried to figure out if that result should stand.

Former state Rep. Susan Hatch Davis, P-Washington, who served five terms in the House representing Orange District 1, pressed her case this week to the House Government Operations Committee, challenging the election outcome that led to Rep. Bob Frenier, R-Chelsea, winning a seat in the Vermont House.

The district includes the towns of Chelsea, Vershire, Corinth, Washington, Williamstown and Orange.

The House committee spent several hours over two days hearing from state election officials, attorneys, current and former lawmakers, town clerks and others offering views on the disputed contest.

The committee is expected to submit a report and recommendation on the matter next week to the full House, which will then decide what next steps to take.

“Our sole goal is to ensure that the will of the voters in Orange 1 is carried out,” committee Chairwoman Maida Townsend, D-South Burlington, told the panel’s members as testimony began on Thursday.

The full House could decide to adopt the panel’s recommendation or not, William Magill, the clerk of the House, told the committee.

“If the House doesn’t accept the committee’s report and says, ‘This other person should be seated,’ that could happen,” he said.

Hatch Davis finished third in the two-seat district on Election Day, trailing Frenier by eight votes, and has challenged the results through a recount and court action to no avail. A recount showed the margin between the two narrowed to six. A tabulator was used in the recount, as required by law.

In the general election, five of the six towns, which lack such machines, counted the ballots by hand. Only Williamstown used a vote-counting machine on Election Day.

Hatch Davis challenged the recount results in Superior Court, where Judge Mary Miles Teachout upheld the order of finishers, though there was a slight change in the number of votes. Teachout, after reviewing three disputed ballots, found two more votes for Frenier and one for Hatch Davis.

Disputes in the recount included when an absentee ballot is considered “defective,” allowing it to be counted or not, and the ability of the recount voting machine to accurately process ballots that had been placed in bags folded, stapled or wrapped in rubber bands.

The changed conditions of the ballots from the election to recount, which may include creases and areas where staples had been removed, could throw off a tabulator from properly recording a vote, former state Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, the attorney representing Hatch Davis, told the committee.

“It’s our position some of those ballots were damaged,” Illuzzi said.

Attorney Tom Koch, a former Republican state representative from Barre Town who is representing Frenier, told the committee the number of “defective” ballots at issue is less than his client’s margin of victory, so even if they were all decided in Hatch Davis’ favor, she still wouldn’t win.

“I think we have a recount that is accurate and that we can have confidence in,” Koch said.

Neither Frenier nor Hatch Davis addressed the committee, though both attended both days of testimony.

“Right now I don’t have any confidence in the recount of the election,” Hatch Davis said after Friday’s hearing. “What we’re asking for is a further recount ... We don’t know what the results will be.”

Frenier said the two days of testimony clearly showed he won, and the House panel should not meddle with the result.

“I think I deserve a unanimous vote from that committee that I won the election fair and square,” Frenier said. “And more importantly, the people of my district have the right to have confidence that the right decision was reached.”