Vt. Election Officials Worried Concerning Recount Rules

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/4/2017 12:01:33 AM
Modified: 5/4/2017 12:01:40 AM

White River Junction — The Vermont Municipal Clerks’ and Treasurers’ Association is raising concerns that already hardworking election officials would be overloaded by a pending House bill intended to address controversy over legislative-race recounts last fall.

“The last couple years there’s been so much coming at us that something’s going to break,” said Karen Richard, the town clerk for Colchester, Vt., who also heads the association’s legislative committee.

Richard cited several mandates that have come down from the Legislature in the past few years, including requirements that clerks report unofficial results to the Secretary of State’s Office on Election Day and deal with same-day registrants, online registration, automatic DMV registration and unlimited early absentee voting.

Proponents of H. 512 say the bill would set clearer expectations for recounts in the wake of whisker-thin elections to the Vermont House in seats representing the Chelsea and Royalton areas.

Although Richard said she supported having clearer recounts, she said the workload on clerks poses its own danger to the integrity of Vermont elections.

She said the proposed legislation promises to add more requirements, including that clerks must write notes on defective ballots and put them into the sealed container that goes out for counting.

Meanwhile, Richard said, the bill does not offer a crucial respite that clerks have been requesting for years: one day before the election during which election officials are free to prepare their polling places, count early ballots and finalize their checklists, without having to take registrants or early votes.

“We’re really crunched,” said Bonnie Munday, the town clerk in Norwich, who added that the lack of a one-day window to prepare made it harder to verify voter registrations. “We’re rapidly losing the integrity of our checklists.”

H. 512, which was sponsored by the House Committee on Government Operations, follows controversies over elections to the House with very thin margins.

In the Upper Valley, that included the race between then-incumbent Rep. Sarah Buxton, D-Tunbridge, and eventual winner David Ainsworth, R-Royalton; and incumbent and winner Bob Frenier, R-Chelsea, over then-Rep. Susan Hatch Davis, P-Washington.

Both contests were decided by margins of less than 10 votes, and the recounts sparked criticism of the current election law and the limitations that it imposes on recount officials’ ability to visually inspect ballots.

The bill passed the House in March and, after weeks of discussion, passed the Senate this week with an amendment that the House must now consider.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

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