VUES vote recount gets March 22 court date

MIDDLEBURY — The next stop for the one-vote Town Meeting Day election win posted by Vergennes challenger Susan Ferland over incumbent Vergennes Union Elementary School board director Cheryl Brinkman was set to be in a Thursday morning hearing in Addison County Superior Court.
On March 6, Ferland, a former Addison Central School teacher, edged Brinkman, a VUES board chairwoman and Addison Northwest Supervisory Union board member, 329-328, in a race for a seat on the VUES board.
Brinkman on March 8 requested a Vergennes Board of Civil Authority recount, which was performed on March 12 and produced the same result. The BCA consists of Vergennes aldermen and justices of the peace. City Clerk Joan Devine said eight BCA members counted stacks of 25 ballots at a time apiece before she accepted the results.
Devine also acknowledged, however, that a transcription error made on the number of blank ballots produced an incorrect figure for the total number of ballots cast after the March 12 recount. She said an election worker wrote down 11 instead of 16 blank ballots, skewing the total by five, but in her opinion not changing the vote totals received by either Ferland or Brinkman.
“We’re talking blank ballots,” Devine said. “Nothing is going to change.”
Devine said she had spoken to an election official at the Vermont Secretary of State’s office who was willing to certify the results.
But Vermont law allows an election result to be questioned in superior court through the filing of a complaint alleging “that errors were committed in the conduct of the election or in count or return of votes, sufficient to change the ultimate result.”
On Monday, Brinkman, a two-term incumbent who has served six years on the VUES board, filed such a complaint. Brinkman said on Tuesday she did not really expect the vote total to change, but given the unusual one-vote margin and the recount discrepancy that she wanted to take the next logical step to confirm the results.
According to court records, Brinkman, Ferland and Devine were notified on Tuesday of the hearing, and Devine was asked to bring on Thursday “all ballots, checklists, tally sheets, and other documents and records generated by the City of Vergennes which may affect this appeal.”
It was not clear on Wednesday what actions Judge Helen Toor might take in such a case. Toor was unavailable for comment on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Addison County Courthouse, and a Superior Court employee with 16 years experience said is was the first such case during her tenure there.
After Tuesday’s city council meeting, city officials speculated that the judge could examine the blank ballots and certify the results, or order a third count of the votes cast. Devine said in addition to the 657 ballots counted for either candidate and the blank ballots that there were three clearly spoiled ballots.
 Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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