BRATTLEBORO—As the late Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
In this local election season, “it” refers to Selectboard election between Dick DeGray and Avery Schwenk.
After learning that some advice from the Secretary of State’s office lead the Brattleboro Board of Civil Authority to diverge from state statute when during the March 10 recount, Schwenk has requested recount deux.
Town Clerk Annette Cappy has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday, March 16, at 2 p.m. in the Selectboard Meeting Room.
At the hearing, the Board of Civil Authority will decide whether to hold a second recount.
Cappy said she will recommend a second recount.
When asked if he thought something nefarious had taken place, Schwenk answered, “Not in the slightest.”
Schwenk praised the Town Clerk’s office and its handling of the election, recount one, and potentially recount two.
Cappy and her staff acted on “well-meaning advice from the Secretary of State’s office,” Schwenk said.
That advice, however, did not follow statute. “Well-meaning but wrong,” Cappy added.
Cappy initially called the Secretary’s office prior to the March 10 recount seeking advice. The statute governing recounts recently changed.
What started as eight paragraphs became a “convoluted” six pages, she said.
Cappy said staff in the state elections division told her she didn’t need teams or four, or need to count the ballots twice.
According to Cappy, the Secretary of State’s office has since told her that the staff are rewriting the rules.
“I take full responsibility,” said Cappy. “And I just feel awful about it.”
Every ballot matters
One vote — or in this case, nine — can make a difference.
If this Selectboard race has highlighted anything, it is the power of voting.
On March 10, Cappy read the results of the almost three-hour recount to the small crowd of counters, observers, and local media.
At that moment, Brattleboro has a new Selectboard member, a former member who is returning.
The recount overturned the March 1 election results. DeGray requested the recount after he lost his eighth bid to the board by one vote.
DeGray, who gained one vote in the March 10 recount, now holds the second open seat with 1,505 votes. Schwenk, the winner on March 1, lost eight votes in the recount for a new result of 1,497.
Incumbent David Gartenstein’s count remained the same at 2,019.
DeGray requested a hand recount. Members of the Board of Civil Authority, assembled into four teams of three, leafed through the ballots. One team member read the ballot, one team member recorded the name, and one team member observed.
A chant of names drifted into the hallway outside the Selectboard Meeting Room on the second floor of the Municipal Center.
“Voted all three, it’s spoiled.”
Cappy studied a ballot held up by a team member.
“It’s amazing how many people over voted,” she said.
The teams checked for stray pen marks that may have confused the tabulator. They checked for over-voted ballots. They checked for write-ins. They were entertained by what the teams call “editorial comments” left by voters. Some of these comments came in the form of illustrations. Other comments contained descriptive language.
“Some people showed up just to vote for Bernie and left the whole local ballot blank,” Cappy said.
Everyone involved in the recount is surprised by the change.
“You never know,” Cappy said. “There’s no rhyme or reason that I can see.”
The voting process is important, Cappy said. She doesn’t want people to lose faith in it and worries the recount might upset community members, she said.
According to Cappy, normally, the recount cements the election’s results. If Schwenk wanted to contest the numbers, he had 10 days to take the issue to Superior Court.
Given the concerns about following state statute, the Secretary of State’s office has told Cappy that the BCA can hold a hearing and decide about a second recount.
In a phone interview on March 10, DeGray was calm.
“I actually had no idea what to anticipate,” he said. “Obviously, I’m happy.”
Schwenk kept his poise and upbeat nature in his phone interview.
As a relative newcomer to town in his first election race, Schwenk said he felt pleased by how many votes he earned.
“I’m disappointed but not disheartened at all,” Schwenk said,
Per the Town Charter, the new Selectboard is sworn in after the Annual Representative Town Meeting which is Saturday, March 19.