Brattleboro recount procedure questioned

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BRATTLEBORO >> After losing the election following a recount last week, Avery Schwenk called into question a couple parts of the process.

"I wasn't able to attend the recount myself," Schwenk told the Reformer. "I had a representative there that was watching. In conversations after that, I first had some questions about the procedure."

He said there are some built-in methods to ensure human error doesn't come into play and those were not in place.

On March 1, Schwenk beat former board member Dick DeGray by one vote for a one-year term on the board. Schwenk received 1,505 to DeGray's 1,504.

DeGray called for a recount, which was held last Thursday, and the results made him the winner. DeGray received 1,505 votes in the recount. Schwenk had 1,497.

"I'm fine if there's another recount," DeGray said. "It's out of my hands. I have no control over it. I'm fine with the outcome. Whatever will be will be. This isn't life or death for me."

The issues Schwenk brought up involved the number of people on each team and the amount of times ballots were counted. Town Clerk Annette Cappy said he visited her on Friday, then formally requested a recount on Monday.

Due to the recount being held "on very short notice," Cappy said there was trouble finding qualified people to participate.

"Basically, statute says you need a minimum of four to a team. We had three," she said.

Another part of the statute has teams counting stacks of 50 ballots. Once a team counts them, another team double checks the count.

"The Secretary of State's office said we only needed to count ballots once," said Cappy. "We did not do a second count."

Cappy said the way statutes were written allows for a hearing before the Board of Civil Authority if concerns come up. The BCA then makes a determination on whether to hold a second recount.

A hearing on Wednesday will begin at 2 p.m. Cappy plans on recommending that the BCA conduct a recount. And if it's approved, she said, "We're hoping for Thursday," for the recount.

Cappy acknowledged the recount was not done to "the letter of the law" and said she spent time talking with Schwenk and people in the secretary of state's office.

"The statutes changed over the last couple years," said Cappy. "The procedures for recount went from half a page to about six pages."

Cappy said she contacted the Secretary of State's office before the recount and followed their advice. It was incorrect, she said, but also accepted blame herself.

"It sounds like it was well-meaning advice from the Secretary of State," said Schwenk, who opened the Hermit Thrush Brewery on High Street with his business partner Christopher Gagne in late 2014.

Regarding the hearing, Cappy said, "I have participated in recounts but it's never gone this far."

"Actually this portion, the ability to have a hearing, wasn't in the statutes prior to a year or two ago. At least not to the local level," she added.

With Representative Town Meeting coming up on Saturday and Select Board members set to take oaths on Monday, Cappy said it would be good to hold the recount this week "So we have it settled, so we know who the new Select Board will be."

"There's still the possibility that the election ballots are wrong, that the recount was wrong," she said. "Hopefully this new recount will settle it and we'll find out exactly what happened if we can."

Describing himself as a big supporter of Cappy, DeGray said he thinks she does a wonderful job.

"Town Meeting is Saturday. That's the bigger issue facing the town," he said. "Putting money into the proposed budget for next year based on the outcome of Saturday's vote, to me, is a heck of a lot more important than the recount."

DeGray was referring to the special meeting on March 12 where Town Meeting Representatives, in a 111 to 27 vote, supported relocating the police department to Black Mountain Road and renovating Central Fire Station. On Saturday, March 19, representatives will be asked to approve a budget with these projects included.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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