Tuesday, December 5
NEWFANE -- In these days of touch-screen voting and election results downloaded to BlackBerrys within seconds of becoming official, democracy advanced Monday afternoon at the Windham County Courthouse, one paper ballot at a time.

The first statewide recount in 26 years got under way in Vermont's 12 county courthouses Monday morning.

Rockingham Selectboard member Tom Salmon, who is vying for the office of Auditor of Accounts, called for the recount after official results gave his main opponent, incumbent Republican Randy Brock, the win by a mere 137 votes.

In order to overcome Brock, Salmon would have to pick up only 69 votes from among the 250,717 cast in the Nov. 7 election.

The official results gave Brock 111,486 votes to Salmon's 111,349, a difference of just more than one-tenth of a percentage point.

Martha Abbott, the Progressive candidate won 23,454 votes while the Liberty Union candidate, Jerry Levy, received 4,229.

The Vermont State Police picked up canvas bags at each of the 23 towns in Windham County last week and delivered them to the County Courthouse in Newfane.

On Monday the bags were taken out of the courthouse vault, one at a time.

Two "volunteers" -- the state is paying the same rate it gives for jury duty, $30-per-day -- sat at the head of the room. They counted out the ballots into stacks of 50.

County Republicans, Democrats, and members of Liberty Union and Progressive parties signed on for the work, and they sat at seven different locations, in groups of four.

One volunteer looked at a single ballot and read out a name while a second volunteer checked that the right name was said.

A third volunteer wrote down that name while the fourth checked that the proper name was written down.

They ran through the stacks of 50, and then switched, running through the same exercise again with each of the four taking on a different role in the recount of the recount.

Calls of, "Salmon, Salmon, Salmon, Brock, Salmon, Abbott," rang through the historic court room.

The counters were not allowed to talk to reporters during the procedure.

Salmon won 10,483 votes, or almost 59 percent in the mostly Democratic Windham County. Brock received 4,916, Abbott got 1,450 and Levy won 948.

After the group was satisfied with the result of their stack of 50 ballots, a volunteer walked them up to a table, where the result was transcribed on to a sheet.

Windham County Court Clerk Larry Robinson then double-checked that number before putting the final total down on the sheets that will eventually be sent to the Washington County Courthouse.

According to Vermont law, the recount is under the jurisdiction of a judge in the Washington County Courthouse

Salmon said Monday that he was going to keep out of the recount process at this point.

He did not want to give any indication of tampering, and since making the official call for the recount, Salmon said he was confident in the state's ability to carry out the exercise.

"It's an exciting time," Salmon said. "I have a lot of faith in the process.

He said even if he loses by six votes after the recount, he will accept the final results of the recount.

"Its great for Democracy and great for the people who don't think their votes count," Salmon said. "It's not about the candidate, it's about the process. May the people's wish prevail."

At the Newfane County Courthouse Monday, Robinson, the county clerk, sat at a large table with papers spread out across it.

He said Windham County has had a number of recounts over the past few years, and the process for the statewide race, he said, from the county's perspective is about the same.

The room hummed with activity as the groups made their way through the stacks of ballots.

"Unless they come up with some kind of program that can scan," he said, his voice trailing off in unknown possibilities. "I don't know. For now it's just one-two-three-four."


Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or (802) 254-2311, extension 279.