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Vermont Judge Calls Contested Race for Chelsea Republican Rep. Frenier

  • Bob Frenier

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/20/2016 12:11:45 AM
Modified: 12/20/2016 12:11:47 AM

Chelsea — A Vermont Superior Court judge on Monday declared Chelsea Republican Bob Frenier the winner in a contested Vermont House recount, saying he had defeated state Rep. Susan Hatch Davis, P-Washington, by seven votes.

The ruling for Frenier came after Judge Mary Teachout assessed three disputed ballots at a hearing on Monday and found two for Frenier and one for Hatch Davis, a five-term lawmaker. That changed the vote total to 1,852 for Frenier, 1,845 for Hatch Davis.

State Rep. Rodney Graham, R-Williamstown, was the top vote-getter in the two-seat Orange 1 House district, with 2,015 votes. Adam DesLauriers, P-Washington, had 1,006 votes.

But Hatch Davis and her attorney plan to challenge the outcome with the Secretary of State’s Office and the Legislature, saying that, among other problems, absentee ballots in unsealed inner envelopes were treated differently in different towns.

The Orange 1 House district includes the towns of Chelsea, Vershire, Corinth, Washington, Williamstown and Orange, and Election Day results initially showed Frenier with an eight-vote lead. A certified recount last month found him with a six-vote margin.

But her attorney, former state Sen. Vince Illuzzi, argued in a motion that at least four absentee ballots from Orange were labeled “defective” and not counted because they were in unsealed inner envelopes, whereas it was “unclear” whether absentee ballots in the same condition from Williamstown and other towns may have been counted.

The Secretary of State’s Office in October had advised clerks to count such ballots as long as the outer envelope was sealed.

Frenier’s attorney, former state Rep. Tom Koch, a Barre Town Republican, said Teachout was “very clear” in saying Monday’s hearing had “to center on procedural deficiencies in the recount that may have affected the outcome,” and that the four “defective” — and therefore untallied — votes in Orange, even if they were all for Hatch Davis, would not have changed the outcome.

But Hatch Davis said on Monday evening she has heard there may be as many as five other absentee ballots that were deemed defective in other towns because of unsealed inner envelopes. She said she wanted to assure consistency in the process.

“This isn’t just about winning. This is about assuring voters that their votes get counted,” she said.

Frenier said the matter appears to be settled.

“The key issue the judge kept raising was whether any minor deviations from the law made a difference in the outcome. Illuzzi was unable to meet that standard,” he said via email. “I hope Susan Davis asks herself if taking up the Legislature’s time to adjudicate her complaints about this election is appropriate in the face of the House’s need to create a workable healthcare system, mitigate the Act 46 debacle and find $1.5 billion to clean up Lake Champlain.”

Koch said he was involved in other contested races that went to the Legislature during his 22 years in Montpelier.

One such case came in January 2011, when the Legislature upheld Tunbridge Democrat Sarah Buxton’s one-vote victory over then-state Rep. David Ainsworth, a Republican.

Ironically, tallies last week found Ainsworth with a one-vote victory over Buxton in this year’s election.

John P. Gregg can be reached at or 603-727-3217.

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