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November 13, 2008

Barnard Requests Recount *updated*

Think Election '08 is over? Hardly.

Today, Democrat Denise Begins Barnard asked Chittenden County Clerk Diane Lavallee for a recount of the vote in the state senate race.

As I noted in this weeks' column, former State Rep. Barnard came in seventh place in the six-seat district, behind Progressive Burlington City Councilor Tim Ashe. Barnard finished just 417 votes behind Ashe, who earned a "D" after his name by winning in the September primary.

"This is about ensuring the validity of the process,” said Barnard.”I have the utmost respect for the voting process, the candidates, the town clerks, and polling center workers, and it is my intent to ensure that each vote is counted as it was intended.  Between the closeness of the race and the documented inconsistencies, it is my belief that a recount is warranted."

Barnard told Seven Days that inconsistencies center around Burlington's vote tally.

Other than the election-night snafu in which an election worker mistyped Ashe's results into a spreadsheet of unofficial tallies for the media, there is also the case of one district that reported 2211 spoiled ballots.

Election officials told me last week that the 2211 spoiled ballots were not actually spoiled — it was an error in filling out the spreadsheet. They were really supposed to be recorded as "blank" ballots. The official said the error would be corrected before the official results are sent to the secretary of state's office.

Spoiled ballots are ballots on which a voter makes an error on the ballot, turns it in and asks for  a new ballot to cast. Blank ballots are recorded when a voter doesn't vote for all candidates in a race. For example, in the senate race you can vote for no more than six candidates. A blank ballot in this case would mean someone only voted for two or four or one candidate.

Barnard said she spent about three hours talking with state election officials Tuesday and looking at the results.

There were more than 75,000 ballots cast in the Chittenden County senate district. Of the county's 17 towns only two — Charlotte and Bolton — count ballots by hand. The rest are counted by tabulator machines.

In a recount, all ballots will be counted by hand at the county clerk's office. Each political party will be asked to provide volunteers to oversee the recount. During the recount, two people count the ballots and two people watch the counters.

"I've received an overwhelming number of phone calls," said Barnard. "I owe it to myself and to the voters, the people who supported me and the people who worked on my campaign. I need to do this so we know once and for all."

Barnard spent some time Thursday alerting all the town clerks that she was asking for a recount. Not out of necessity, but of courtesy.

Ashe declined to comment on Barnard's decision.

This isn't the first time county officials have had to hand recount ballots. Two years ago, a recount after a Democratic primary for the state senate took 118 volunteers seven consecutive days to count just 10,000 ballots. In the end, it did not affect the outcome of the race.

That same year, about 50,000 ballots were recounted when Democrat Tom Salmon contested the outcome of the state auditor's race. That recount in Chittenden County took more than a month to complete as the parties had difficulty recruiting volunteers during the pre-holiday shopping season.

UPDATE: Chittenden County Clerk Diane Lavallee says there isn't likely to be a quick recount in the senate race. That's because she's already been asked to recount ballots in a House race in Milton. That's scheduled for Nov. 24; Lavallee is hoping that will only take one day.

The Senate recount won't take place until possibly the second week of December, but Lavallee said she hopes she can get enough volunteers to complete the recount by Christmas. If enough volunteers show up from all parties, she is hopeful the recount can be done in 10 days.

Cool, as long as she doesn't mind paying for it.

"Barnard finished just 417 votes behind Ashe"

"just"? I think the appropriate word is "over"

The recount is going to take 48 people 10 days to complete at a cost of nearly $15,000. Come on Denise, let it go. You're down by 417 votes. It just ain't happenin' and we could use that dough for better things.

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