With Chittenden County Senate recount slated to begin Wednesday, questions remain about how to verify mail-in ballots

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A RELIABLE VOTING SYSTEM?: According to town clerks in Chittenden County, little can be done to verify a signature on a mail-in ballot.

Two town clerks involved in an upcoming recount for the Chittenden Senate primary election held earlier this month say there’s no way to check the signatures of the envelopes that delivered absentee ballots.

The recount, which is expected to begin Wednesday, will be conducted primarily by the County Clerk’s office.

June Heston, of Richmond, is a self-described moderate Democrat who came within 45 votes of unseating incumbent Progressive-Democrat Sen. Chris Pearson. Due to the close margin, she was able to file for a recount of the ballots.

“I think that is a very tight margin, and based on the fact that it was such a large turnout, I thought that everyone wants to be confident in the results,” Heston told True North.

Chittenden County Clerk Anne Williams will be overseeing the recount process.

“[To perform the recount], every ballot from every town is delivered, all those ballot bags have to be reopened, and we need to recount the Democratic ballots,” Williams said.

Williams said some ballots are “spoiled,” meaning they weren’t filled out correctly and are disqualified from being counted in the election. For example, voting for more candidates than is allowed on the form will spoil a ballot.

She said each ballot will be examined to determine voter intent, for instance, when a voter has circled a candidate’s name instead of filling in the proper boxes. Such ballots count toward the election.

One review that does not occur in a recount is an examination of envelope signatures, to ensure that they match the voter’s signature. With mail-in voting, voters must sign their names on an outer envelop affirming their identity.

South Burlington City Clerk Donna Kinville told True North that even had there been a request to examine the signatures, there is no way to check them.

“When they went with these computerized systems we don’t have any signatures to check anymore,” she said. “We don’t know what John Smith’s signature looks like. We used to be able to check because we had a lot more of the applications that people fill out by hand and would have to sign, but those count for 1 or 2 percent of what we receive now.”

Kinville said the vast majority of people these days either apply online or at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Even if a signature was fraudulent, it would be impossible to know, since ballots sent by mail are separated from their signed outer envelopes on election night, and there is no way to reunite them.

“We wouldn’t be able to pull it out anyways because we have no idea what that person voted,” Kinville said.

During a recount, ballots are run through the tabulator machines again. The machines are always locked in a vault when not in use, and they use memory cards to record the tallies. She said the memory card is something to be mindful of.

“We put [the cards] into the machine, [and] it’s not connected to the Internet, it’s not connected anything,” Kinville said. “It’s strictly what is on that card and what it reads. Now if I wanted to play devil’s advocate, someone could tamper with the cards prior to leaving the facility. But we haven’t found anything and when we have had to do recounts on some of our local issues, we’ve found them to be highly accurate.”

Kinville said clerks have been strained this election due to COVID-related guidelines, and so there may be inexperienced election workers brought in to help conduct the recount.

“So it has … the clerks working major overtime to get this election pulled off,” she said. ” … We’re trying to find election workers because most of the election workers that we have are a vulnerable age group, so we had to bring in a lot of new people that were not familiar with the election process.”

For purposes of transparency, each candidate will choose a team of volunteers to oversee the recount. Pearson took to Twitter to request a team of helpers.

Richmond Town clerk Linda Parent is another election official who says there’s no way to know who’s signing the envelopes that go with absentee ballots.

“We don’t know what people’s signatures look like,” she said. “You know, some of them are quite legible and some of them are just scribbles.”

She said it’s up to the voter to vote by mail correctly.

“People have to follow the directions on how to vote by mail, and if they followed all those directions and put their name on it and signed the envelope, then we process it,” she said.

Heston said her supporters are encouraging her to fight on.

“I believe I owe it to my supporters who are encouraging me with such a tight margin to go for the recount,” she said. ” … I think everyone wants to feel confident that the results are what we’re showing.”

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

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10 thoughts on “With Chittenden County Senate recount slated to begin Wednesday, questions remain about how to verify mail-in ballots

  1. This is a microcosm of the national mail in ballot scene. President Trump is right on about challenging the reliability of the process. It’s a license to steal an election. That’s the primary reason Pelosi is all for it.

  2. So let’s see you go a polling location, verify you address & name and show
    your ID and then your handed a ballot…….. sounds pretty simple and voter
    fruad will be negligible…………….

    The few that cannot make it for medical or other reason, can request a mail-in
    ballot and this number is miniscule and shouldn’t be a burden.

    Liberals want to hand out ballots like they are M&M’s …….. Why ?? oh yeah,
    mass confussion so they can drag out the results and then take it to the courts
    to handle…………

    Yup, win by hook o by crook, wake up people vote these fools out !!

  3. Comparison of signatures is not a valid method to verify identity. How do I know? My signature is very erratic. And you expect a person not trained in writing analysis to verify a signature?

    We should require voter ID at the polls, not “I’m so and so and live at …”. Mailed ballots should not be processed until after the polls are closed and verified against the checklist. Ask what would happen if you didn’t get your mailed ballot, you went in person and found out you had already been checked off?

  4. Boy, what a terrible situation.
    Who has proper training to study these signatures? ever think of that?
    No, a humans signature is not dead on identical every time we write it- we aren’t robots.
    So there are very fine details one is trained to study.
    Why do you think there is a such thing as “Handwriting Experts”?
    There would be no such thing if that need wasn’t there.
    And what about the arguments? how do you solve all that.
    One says it’s his signature and one says it isn’t.

    Might be better just get out the jars of ink and dip your finger like they do in undeveloped countries.
    At this point, I’d have more confidence in that.

  5. The Dem/ Progs want mail in voting, by people who have been regularly going shopping in stores for months, without any adverse effects, if certain precautions are taken, such as wearing a mask.

    Why could these same people not go to a voting booth?
    It would be similar to going to the store checkout counter.
    Why all the scare-mongering?

    Who waved a magic wand to come up with $25 billion for the Post Office?
    Did any input come from the Post Office, or is this just a bunch of politicians in a room playing games, to see what will stick?
    What will that huge sum of money do?
    How long will it last?

    Is that the kind of government we want with Dem/Progs in the White House and taking over the government all over the place?

    Look at the mess they made of CALIFORNIA, closing down power plants they need, when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining; off the charts idiotic, and PREDICTED by energy systems engineers for at least 10 years

    Look at the riots in Democrat-controlled cities.

    Pelosi’s Post Office hoax is a manufactured “crisis”

    Pelosi did not get her $3.5 TRILLION virus bill.
    Pelosi likely will not get her pulled out of a hat $25 BILLION Post Office bill.
    Pelosi is starting to look sillier each day.
    Welch supporting Pelosi reflects badly on his judgement and on Vermont

    Pelosi is trying to put the blame on the Post Office, if something goes on with mail-in.
    There is PLENTY going wrong, as I and others PREDICTED

    The problem is AFTER the ballot arrives at the Town Clerk.
    The Town Clerk looks at the outside of the envelope (anonymous ballot inside) and sees a scribble/signature AND HAS NO WAY TO VERYFY THAT SCRIBBLE/SIGNATURE, except by going through a list with thousands of signatures on file, and in many cases there are not even any signatures or photo ID on file.

    Condos thinks all is OK. What me worry? After all, he is the EXPERT

    This is beyond rational, and the Vermont Legislators (who know about voting procedures) knew this would happen BEFORE they voted on the UNIVERSAL mail-in bill.

    Therein lies the mendacity/travesty.

    It is time the clean house in Montpelier in November.

    • Fully agree that mass mailed ballots – are a disaster. Some of which will be easily stolen from rural boxes, or cast aside unwanted in the PO lobby waste basket , to be grabbed by ballot snatchers. Name is right on the envelope!

      Let those who can vote in the 12 hour period vote in person, and let those not able do the proven functional and safe request true “Absentee Ballots”

  6. Ever hear of chain of custody ? With regard to court cases, evidence can be thrown out if proper documentation is not filled out, then the chain of custody is broken.

    Same thing with mail in ballots. You put it in the mailbox and the chain of custody is broken. No documentation or proof of who is filling it out or mailing it. It does not matter if you think there is no fraud. The simple fact is that the opportunity is there and will be exercised by the unscrupulous.

    Why invite that ? Why create a complicated and dubious new process ?

  7. Condos thinks all of this is OK, because he is THE EXPERT.
    Verify signatures? What for?
    Photo ID? What for?

    There is never any fraud, even when the system is broken, because of a lack of properly documented voter lists, he says.

    If a voter list is not documented, it is illegal, by definition
    Just as when an alien enters the US without documents, although DemProgs welcome such people because they are sure to vote Democrat.

    Put an end to all these shenanigans by a tide of no more votes in November
    Enough is enough.
    Here is a chance for Vermonters to be real leaders.

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