Orange-1 recount: Lessons learned?

The Orange-1 recount matter is now concluded. What lessons can be learned? I wish to highlight two lessons that I hope were learned.

First, I hope that representatives learned that representatives should NEVER count ballots in the election of peers. The Vermont Constitution says that the House of Representatives “shall have power to … judge of the elections and qualifications of their own members …” It seems too much of a stretch to say that this language implies that representatives should be counting ballots. Yes, it has been done before. That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.

Representatives, regardless of party, have an unavoidable conflict of interest when it comes to counting ballots in the election of peers. No one is going to trust a ballot counting process run by representatives more than they trust a process run by trained town clerks and boards of civil authority who do not have that conflict of interest.

It is the job of representatives to create and oversee election machinery that is independent of themselves. If that machinery needs to be tweaked for future elections, presumably the House Committee on Government Operations will hold hearings and make recommendations.

The second lesson that I hope is learned can be drawn from the comments of Representative Chesnut-Tangerman of Middletown Springs on February 22 (House Journal p. 309):

Having already extended congratulations of Rep. Frenier, I do not challenge the outcome of this process, though I must note the irony that an investigation of possible procedural errors was derailed by a procedural error.

Writing policies and procedures is hard. It is difficult to anticipate every situation and consequence. There are often unintended consequences. I know this from years of writing policies and procedures in my business career. In the Orange-1 recount matter, the unintended consequence affected only representatives, and many would say it did no harm. (I say it did good, since it kept representatives from counting ballots.)

Likewise, writing laws and regulations is hard. Even with good intentions, there are often unintended consequences that affect many more people than just representatives, and they are almost never to the good. I hope that our public officials keep that in mind when writing laws and regulations. I hope that they write laws and regulations with humility.

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