An Unusual Vote on a Resolution

On Wednesday, the floor of the House chamber was the site of a long debate about whether members of the House should authorize a recount for a contested legislative race that took place in November. The election in question was in the Orange-1 legislative district, which encompasses the towns of Chelsea, Corinth, Orange, Vershire, Washington, and Williamstown. There was a clear victor for the first place position in the race, Rep. Rodney Graham. Rep. Graham’s election was not in question. The question came down to the vote total of the second place vote getter and the close runner up, Rep. Bob Frenier and former Rep. Susan Davis. Rep. Frenier finished with 1,853 votes, while Ms. Davis netted 1,845 —  a difference of seven votes.

Due to the close nature of the vote, a recount was conducted by a vote tabulator under supervision of county clerk. Final results were later certified by the Orange Superior Court in December. Following the Superior Court decision, the candidate who was behind by seven votes appealed the decision to the House of Representatives.

The Vermont State Constitution, and subsequent judicial precedent, “places the final determination of the election and qualifications of its members exclusively in the House” as part of its legislative powers. As such, the legislative petition was sent to the House Government Operations Committee for review. After testimony was collected, the Committee drafted a resolution and voted 7-4 to recommend a recount of the vote. The resolution (H.R. 8) was introduced on the House floor.

Today’s debate took almost seven hours. A number of amendments were presented for consideration. Heading into the debate on the underlying resolution (underlying refers to the original, Committee-passed resolution), I experienced mixed feelings about the concept of a legislative body reviewing the outcomes of an election and conducting a recount of votes cast. My preference is generally that every vote should count. Given that a recount process was conducted last fall, I was unsure as to whether legislative action was needed to conduct a second recount.

As the debate began, I was undecided on how I would vote. I listened to the testimony with great interest. It was spirited and, at times, colorful. For me, two factors prompted my eventual vote in favor of taking a step to continue the process: 1) The State Constitution and established judicial precedent clearly articulate that the House of Representatives can, and should, review petitions brought before the body for the purposes of reviewing extraordinary election outcomes. 2) An amendment put forth by Rep. Anne Donahue clarified that before any recount was taken, a House Panel comprised of a chairperson and 22 members (11 Republicans, 6 Democrats and 5 Progressives) will report back to the full House on its proposed rules and procedures for conducting a fair and impartial recount.

Rep. Donahue’s amendment provided a necessary check to the process. I supported the amendment so that voters can be certain that any procedures adopted by the House will be fair and balanced. This step gave me enough assurance to vote to support the formation of the House Panel. They will report back to the House before proceeding with a recount. If, at that time, I am not convinced that their proposed process will be fair and transparent, I will not vote for the recount.

As is often the case in a political system, some political parties have tried to make hay of this discussion. With Rep. Donahue’s amendment in place, I feel we did our due diligence and set up a system that moves us in the right direction. If you have any questions about the process outlined above, or my vote, please contact me. I’m happy to explain why I voted to advance this question for future consideration. As I said, if and when the resolution returns to the floor for a final vote, I will withhold my support from anything I feel is unfair, unnecessary, or otherwise problematic.

If you have any questions, please feel free to give me a call: (802) 734-8841