Recount upsets auditor election
By ROSS SNEYD The Associated Press | December 19,2006
BURLINGTON — A recount in the Nov. 7 election for Vermont state auditor concluded Monday, showing Democrat Thomas M. Salmon won by the closest of margins, apparently overturning the re-election of incumbent Auditor Randy Brock.
Salmon, who lost by 137 votes in Election Day balloting, ended up prevailing by 104 votes in the two-week-long recount, in which more than 250,000 ballots were counted by hand in the state's 14 counties. The results have yet to be certified.
Salmon, the son of a former governor, finished with 111,741 votes, compared with 111,637 for Brock, according to vote totals released by county clerks and tabulated by The Associated Press.
The outcome won't be official until Thursday, at the earliest. Washington County Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout must certify the recount after the paperwork is forwarded to the state capital in Montpelier. The soonest a hearing could be held is Thursday, according to a court clerk.
"I'm humbled by the news," said Salmon, who was nonetheless reluctant to declare victory.
"I'm excited for an opportunity to serve Vermont with full commitment," he said. "But I think to declare victory would not be prudent because we're not there yet."
Brock wasn't ready to embrace the results, yet, either. "This race has already shown how unwise it is to make a statement on the basis of unofficial results," he said, noting that it was unknown how many questionable ballots might still change the totals.
Among the issues that could affect the outcome — yet again — are any ballots that were challenged by the recount teams in the 14 counties. It was not immediately clear Monday how many challenged ballots there were.
Chittenden County Clerk Diane Lavallee said there was one in the Burlington area. The voter had appeared to vote for a write-in, but then never wrote anyone's name. Another candidate's name was circled, instead. She could not recall whether it was Salmon or Brock whose name was circled.
Because there was not agreement on that ballot, Teachout will have to determine the voter's intent or else declare it a spoiled ballot that doesn't get counted.
Secretary of State Deb Markowitz said there were also about 60 vote-by-phone ballots and provisional ballots that will have to be counted. Those ballots are counted by the secretary of state's office and Markowitz said they were equally divided between Brock and Salmon.
She said Teachout will have to determine whether the challenged ballots would make a difference. "If all the challenges go to Brock, or they're not counted, will that matter in the outcome?" Markowitz said.
Washington County Clerk Claire Mee said she did not know how many challenged ballots there were, either.
Markowitz said the recount appeared to go smoothly and, while the election result could be overturned, said the ultimate outcome should reassure voters.
"Obviously, Tom Salmon made the right choice to ask for the hand recount," she said. "We were able to identify and correct some clerical mistakes that were made in a few towns scattered across the state. As a result we know what the voters truly intended and that's a good thing."
Markowitz has said the bulk of changes in the recount occurred in communities that still use paper ballots, requiring elections officials to count them by hand on election night.
As clerks in some of those communities transferred vote totals from individual tally sheets to a master summary sheet, they mistakenly assigned votes to Liberty Union Party candidate Jerry Levy that should have gone to Salmon, according to Markowitz.
The recount, which was sought by Salmon, was the first recount in a statewide race in Vermont since 1980. If Salmon's victory holds, it would be the first time in Vermont history that a certified election has been overturned by a recount, according to the state archivist's office.