The chair of the Rutland County Republican Committee on Thursday filed a complaint with the state ethics commission alleging that Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman violated state law by requesting and witnessing the opening of ballot bags following the Aug. 11 primary election.
According to the complaint submitted by Theresa Burke, Chesnut-Tangerman contacted the Middletown Springs Board of Civil Authority on Aug. 17 and requested that ballots be examined to identify a write-in vote for David Zuckerman, then a candidate for governor on the Progressive ballot.
“Specifically, both the voted and unvoted ballot bags were opened to reveal one write-in vote for David Zuckerman for Governor on a Progressive Ballot; this was apparently part of an effort to prevent a requested recount by Progressive Candidate for Governor, Cris Ericson,” Burke wrote on the form filed with the Vermont State Ethics Commission.
She added that Chesnut-Tangerman, being a candidate for re-election, was prohibited by law from appearing at any polling place where ballots were being examined.
Secretary of State Jim Condos, Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy, R-Poultney, and House Ethics Commission Chair John Gannon, D-Wilmington, also received a copy of the complaint.
Burke told True North Reports in an email that the situation “has been a widespread topic of conversation in the Rutland-Bennington House district, and citizens are concerned when there hasn’t been an apparent concern over upholding election statutes or consequences when the rules are openly ignored.”
Chesnut-Tangerman, writing in a post published Sept. 1 on Front Porch Forum, said he had no nefarious intent but was seeking to find a single write-in vote for Zuckerman, because “when primary results were reported to the Secretary of State, it appears that no names of write-in candidates were recorded in Middletown Springs.”
Since Chesnut-Tangerman thought there should have been at least one write-in vote, he contacted the town clerk, the Board of Civil Authority, and Minority Leader McCoy for a list of the write-ins. After learning the write-in information wasn’t recorded, Chesnut-Tangerman requested an examination of ballots and stood present with three Board of Civil Authority members and the BCA chair as they opened the ballot bag and found the vote in question.
McCoy, responding after the fact, said the ballot bag should not be opened unless it is part of a recount conducted in Superior Court. Upon realizing their mistake, the BCA members resealed the bag and the vote count was left unchanged.
Burke wrote in the complaint that “Robin Chesnut-Tangerman is responsible for knowing the laws and abiding by them.” She also noted that the incident has voters questioning the “selective enforcement of the election law.”
The complaint provides public responses to the incident, including one by Ryan Decelle, of Middletown Springs, who has experience working on elections.
“Personal opinions aside, I worked for the Town of Wells as Assistant Town Clerk/Town Treasurer prior to opening my daycare and can tell you that opening up the ballots is not something that should be taken lightly and there are legal ramifications,” she wrote.
“If there is a valid reason for it, the State must give approval PRIOR to opening the ballots and then the Board of Civil Authority (BCA) can officially schedule a meeting with notice given to the public. This is information that every elected official should be well aware of and I don’t believe there would be any reason for Mr. Chestnut-Tangerman to even be present for this,” Decelle added.
The ethics commission’s executive director, Larry Novins, has been in contact with Burke since the filing.