Recount requested in state Senate race11/20/08

Barnard points to voting irregularities

Nov. 20, 2008
By Greg Elias
Observer staff

State Senate candidate Denise Barnard first thought she had won. Then she learned that she lost. Now she wants the results checked one more time.

Barnard, a Democrat from Richmond, has asked for a recount. She finished seventh, 417 votes behind Tim Ashe of Burlington for the final place in Chittenden County’s six-seat senate delegation.

Initial reports showed Barnard finishing ahead of Ashe, who was running as both a Democrat and a Progressive, by a few dozen votes. But those results did not include Burlington’s count, which was later corrected to reflect a recording error involving one ward.

Barnard said hundreds of supporters have called and sent e-mails urging her to seek a recount. That support, combined with Burlington’s ballot-counting problems and the won-then-lost result, convinced her to seek a recount.

“I’d always wonder for the next two years if I didn’t ask for a recount,” Barnard said. “I just want to make sure every vote was counted the way it was intended.”

The recount, scheduled to begin Dec. 3, will be time and labor intensive, said Chittenden County Clerk Diane Lavallee.

She hopes to have 20 representatives from each of the state’s three major parties — Democratic, Republican and Progressive — to help count ballots by hand. The effort is expected to take 10 days.

Roughly 95,000 ballots were cast in Chittenden County, said Kathy DeWolfe, director of elections for the Secretary of State’s office.

Neither DeWolfe or Lavellee could attach a price tag to the recount. Each count is different, they said, and costs vary considerably. Those helping count votes will be paid the same as a juror, $30 a day plus reimbursement for mileage and parking.

To request a recount, a candidate must finish within 5 percent of the winner. In the Senate race, that percentage is based on the vote total divided by six to account for the number of seats being contested. Barnard said the margin between her and Ashe was about 3 percent.

Barnard reviewed voting records at the Secretary of State’s office last week. She said she discovered multiple problems with the Burlington count, including tabulation sheets with crossed out numbers. And she said vote totals on Burlington’s Web site did not match the Secretary of State’s tallies.

“It was a mess. It was an absolute mess,” Barnard said.

Jonathan Leopold, Burlington’s chief administrative officer, did not return a phone message Monday seeking comment. But DeWolfe said the differing vote totals were simply the result of Burlington officials not having time to update numbers posted on the city’s Web site.

Barnard is the owner of Bridge Street Hair in Richmond. She did not run for re-election to the Vermont House of Representatives so she could seek a Senate seat.

Barnard emphasized that she respects the hard work of election workers who counted the vote. No matter what the outcome of the recount, she said residents will be pleased with their representation in the Senate.

“What people need to keep in mind is that Chittenden County will be well-served with the five Democrats and one Republican we have in the Senate,” she said.