This commentary is by Paul Dame, chair of the Vermont GOP.
This week three House races will begin their official recounts. This year, as in many years in the past, there are a few races where the winner was determined by less than 15 votes. In previous years we have had House seats determined by just one single vote. And when the counts are that close, filing for and serving in a recount is an important part of the process to give everyone the confidence that our election-night counts are accurate.
Two Republicans and one Democrat have filed for recounts in Bennington, Rutland and Grand Isle County. The smallest margin, just seven votes, is in a district where incumbent Republican Art Peterson edged out former state Rep. Dave Potter. There is literally zero evidence of any problems in any of these three elections — but it’s still part of our process to allow for recounts, just to be certain we got it right the first time.
It could be argued that recounts are a waste of time. They take up valuable court time, sometimes require hiring lawyers, and each candidate usually recruits a list of volunteers. And in Vermont recounts rarely ever change the outcome that was projected on election night.
But sometimes we have to sacrifice efficiency for resiliency. In a few cases where it is warranted, we take a look at the process and review every piece carefully to make sure that the election process is still working the way that it should. It gives the voters, and the losing candidate an opportunity to verify with a higher degree of certainty that the outcome was correctly determined. President Reagan’s simple motto of “trust but verify” is an appropriate orientation for us to have towards not only elections, but every aspect of our state and federal government.
The ability to challenge and verify the process helps to both keep it honest, while at the same time providing to skeptics the additional transparency to put doubts to rest. By creating these checks and balances we are able to build a stronger more durable process for everyone, strengthening our elections and making them more resilient.
But there is still more work to do. One of the concerns I heard often around the state is the problem of excess ballots. These are ballots that are sent to people who are still on the voter checklist but who no longer live at the address that matches the registration. When voters receive the incorrect number of ballots at their home, even though they have no intention of misusing those ballots, it creates doubts. Rather than fueling those doubts by ignoring the problem, the Secretary of State’s office has the opportunity to take the initiative to reduce that concern and do what many Republicans have been saying for over a decade: clean up the voter rolls.
In the absences of their action, the Republican Party has begun an ongoing effort to allow individuals who received an excess ballot to report it to our website, so that it can be referred to the respective town clerks to be purged from the voter rolls. Since these excess ballots reduce confidence, and are an unnecessary expense to the state, we are trying to play a small role in improving the confidence we have in our system and improve our efficiency too. While things like voter ID (which are standard in nearly every other developed country in the world) might be out of our reach until we have a Republican majority, cleaning up excess ballots is one small thing that existing state statute has a process for and it’s something we can work on now.