Fairlee and other Vermont municipalities asked to inspect 2020 ballots

  • Volunteers from both campaigns tabulate ballots during a vote recount in the democratic primary race for Chittenden County Senate between Sen. Chris Pearson and first-time candidate June Heston on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell) GLENN RUSSELL—GLENN RUSSELL

Published: 9/19/2022 9:37:26 PM
Modified: 9/19/2022 9:37:30 PM

At least three Vermont municipalities received requests to inspect ballots from the 2020 election in the past month in what appears to be part of a national movement by election deniers.

The three towns that have received such requests are Bennington, Fairlee and Montpelier.

Federal law requires states to provide the ballots if requested within 22 months of an election. After the so-called retention deadline, the ballots can be discarded.

The 22-month period for the most recent presidential election — which took place on Nov. 3, 2020 — passed earlier this month.

Last week in Montpelier, a small group of people inspected that city’s ballots from the 2020 election, according to Eric Covey, chief of staff in the Secretary of State’s Office.

Covey said that he could not speak to the specific motivations of the Vermonters who requested the ballots, but he did describe a national movement of election deniers who falsely believe Donald Trump beat President Joe Biden.

“The trends that we’re seeing nationally is that election deniers, who — despite the inability to provide any evidence that there was any sort of widespread fraud or rigging of the 2020 election — continue to make baseless claims, lies and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election,” Covey said. “As a result, you are seeing some renewed call for individuals to examine certain aspects of the election process.”

Montpelier Town Clerk John Odum agreed. “I suspect, though I can’t say for sure, that they were responding to a national call for such actions,” he said.

Covey emphasized that the event in Montpelier fulfilled a public records request and was not a recount.

“What we’re experiencing now is a request from individuals to inspect certain records of that election — in this case, to inspect the ballots themselves,” he said.

Odum said the request in that city came about a week before the retention deadline.

One of the people who inspected the ballots in Montpelier may have claimed to find a discrepancy in 14 of the 5,216 votes cast, according to the Montpelier Bridge. That would amount to a fraction of a percent.

According to the election archives maintained by the Secretary of State’s Office, Biden won 4,576 votes in Montpelier, while Trump garnered 468 votes and other candidates picked up the balance.

Regardless, the ballot inspection would have had no real effect on the results of the 2020 election, Covey said.

“The election was held securely in 2020,” he said.

Officials expect that the timing of the requests was no coincidence. The Washington Post recently reported an “unprecedented wave of public records requests in the final weeks of the summer.”

The article pointed toward leading election deniers such as MyPillow founder Mike Lindell as having instigated this wave. Lindell called on supporters to request records from their local election offices before the 22-month retention period ended.

The Post also reported on speculation that the records requests were made not in an attempt to gain information about the 2020 election, but to disrupt the upcoming general election in November.

“The timing is rather unfortunate, on the one hand, in terms of workflow,” Odum said, referring to the fall election. “On the other hand, these are folks who were well within their right to want to examine the process.”

Both Odum and Covey indicated that misinformation is likely the biggest threat to elections.

Still, Odum said he respected any ballot inspection request, “especially since it was done very civilly and cooperatively.”

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