In close Vermont Democratic gubernatorial primary, 2nd-place finisher plans to seek a recount

By John Curran, AP
Friday, August 27, 2010

Dem. runner-up wants recount in Vt. gov. primary

RICHMOND, Vt. — First, it was too close to call. Then it was called. Now, the second-place finisher is second-guessing the call.

Vermont’s unsettled Democratic gubernatorial primary got even less settled Friday, with an official vote tally confirming state Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin’s victory and also-ran Doug Racine responding by announcing he’ll seek a recount.

“We want to know for sure,” said Racine, a 57-year-old state senator. “I want to know for sure. He does as well.”

Shumlin had a 192-vote lead in unofficial results from Tuesday’s five-way race. In official results released Friday after a vote tally by the Secretary of State’s office, his lead grew to 197 votes, while Racine picked up 79.

Shumlin, who said he was encouraged by the new vote totals, nonetheless said he respected Racine’s decision to seek the recount.

Under Vermont law, a losing candidate can seek a recount if the margin of victory is 2 percent of the total votes cast in the race — in this case, 1,492 votes or less than the 74,634 ballots cast.

In fact, two candidates could seek the recount. Secretary of State Deb Markowitz finished with 696 votes less than Shumlin, which is within the margin. But she said she had no plans to ask for a recount.

Racine can’t file his petition for the recount until after a canvassing board meets Tuesday to certify the vote results, which is a formality. Once he files, ballots from all 14 of Vermont’s counties will be examined one by one under the supervision of a judge.

The last time Vermont had a recount in a statewide election, the result was overturned. That was in the state auditor’s race in 2006, when a 239-vote swing in the recount gave the office to Thomas Salmon, who had apparently lost to incumbent Randy Brock on election night.

That played into Racine’s decision, as did the fact that town clerks told him there was room for error in the vote-counting process and encouraged him to challenge the result, he said, noting that picking up even one vote in each of Vermont’s 246 cities and towns could be enough to change the outcome.

Shumlin, who spoke with Racine before Racine announced he’d seek the recount, had nothing bad to say about the decision.

“I am encouraged by the unofficial certified numbers released by the Secretary of State today, which show me receiving more votes than the other contenders. Doug is a great candidate who ran a great race. I understand that Doug is going to exercise his legal right to a recount and I respect his decision.”

In the 2006 recount, it took six days to count about 260,000 ballots. Since this election had far fewer votes, it could take only about three days to complete this time, according to Markowitz. But the ballot counting probably won’t even begin until after Labor Day to give time for ballot transporting, scanning machine installations and other preparations in each of the county seats, she said.

Racine acknowledged that the odds of overturning the result were probably against him.

He said he would do all he could to expedite the process, including allowing optical scanning machines to count votes instead of hand counts, when possible.

“The overwhelming sentiment of my supporters the last several days has been to ask for a recount. They want to know for sure. And I think I owe it to them and I think I owe it to Vermonters, to know that this is indeed the right outcome that the numbers show us today,” Racine said.

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