The Vermont House of Representatives is currently involved in a contested election for one of its members. The House district “Orange-1” consists of six towns in Orange county that collectively elect two representatives. Citizens vote for two candidates from a list, and the top two vote getters win.
There were four candidates in the general election on November 8, 2016. The top vote getter was Rodney Graham. That is not in dispute. The fourth vote getter was Adam DesLauriers. That is not in dispute. The dispute is between the second and third vote getters, Robert Frenier and Susan Hatch Davis. In the initial count on election day, Mr. Frenier won by eight votes. Ms. Davis requested a recount.
The recount was held on November 28. It was organized by the Orange county clerk who was assisted by town clerks from Thetford and Fairlee (neither town being in Orange-1) and others – all in accordance with law and normal procedure. The recount on that day had Mr. Frenier winning over Ms. Davis by six votes, with three questionable ballots (containing six votes total for all candidates) submitted to Superior Court for a determination.
Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout held a hearing on December 19 and issued a judgment that day that ruled on the three questionable ballots (six votes) as follows: three additional votes granted to Mr. Graham, two to Mr. Frenier, and one to Ms. Davis. In other words, there were three disputed votes as to the count between Mr. Frenier and Ms. Davis, which Judge Teachout determined were two for Mr. Frenier and one for Ms. Davis. Judge Teachout declared Mr. Frenier the winner over Ms. Davis by seven votes.
On December 22 Ms. Davis submitted a petition to the House of Representatives challenging the election and requesting a second recount, specifically by the House of Representatives.
The House of Representatives convened on January 4, 2017. Secretary of State James Condos conducted the session until a speaker was elected. At the beginning of the session a point of order was raised. The House Journal reads:
Rep. Chesnut-Tangerman of Middletown Springs raised a Point of Order in that the member from Orange-1 is not qualified to be seated which the Secretary of State ruled not well taken as the court decision serves as the certificate of election and the member is qualified to be seated.
“The member” refers to Mr. Frenier who was seated.
Ms. Davis’s petition was assigned to the House Committee on Government Operations. The committee held several days of hearings and discussion. On January 25 the committee voted 7 to 4 to recommend a recount by the House of Representative. House Resolution 8 (H.R. 8) was subsequently drafted.
The full House of Representatives took up H.R. 8 on February 1. After more than five hours of debate and minor amendments the House approved H.R. 8 by a vote of 76 to 59. Procedures for the recount were then developed and subsequently approved by the full House on February 16 by voice vote. It is expected that the recount will begin on February 22 and conclude either that day or the following day.
In subsequent posts I will discuss issues that I see in this set of facts, as well as my opinion on this matter.
Articles in VTDigger on January 25, February 1 and February 16 provide more details.
(My opinion: VTDigger does a great job. VTDigger is a resource – nongovernmental – that Vermonters should feel good about.)
Update 3/02/17: Minor wording changes about the ballots submitted to the Superior Court for a determination to clarify the distinction between a vote and a ballot (which typically contained two votes in this election).
The question in the header of this blog is: What is a proper relationship between a free people and their government?
Does the matter of the Orange-1 recount relate to that question? Yes! An important part of that relationship is that the people elect the government. For people to trust their government, elections must be conducted properly.