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DeGray wins Selectboard election

A second recount adds precision to the process and definitively shifts razor-thin result from newcomer Avery Schwenk

BRATTLEBORO—It’s been a roller-coaster ride for the final open one-year Selectboard seat, but Dick DeGray has won the second recount and will rejoin the board.

Challenger Avery Schwenk, who won by one vote in preliminary results on election night, called for a hand recount of local ballots and said he was glad to have the second count.

He said he won’t take the results to the Superior Court, an option available under Vermont law.

Despite losing the election, Schwenk said he still felt successful.

Schwenk said he entered the election a complete unknown, yet earned 1,505 votes. He said that since the election, many people have shown their support.

Noting that members of the Board of Civil Authority (BCA) gave their time in two recounts to make sure the process was as strong as possible, Schwenk said he was “thrilled” to receive so much support and thanked everyone who voted and participated in the recounts.

On March 1, Schwenk received 1,505 votes to DeGray’s 1,504.

DeGray, however, called for a recount, which took place March 10.

The former Selectboard chair walked away with 1,505 votes that day. Schwenk, however, lost eight votes in the recount for new result of 1,497.

Incumbent David Gartenstein’s count remained consistent at 2,019.

Crisis of confidence

The huge shift in votes from the first recount left a sour taste in many people’s mouths.

Town Clerk Annette Cappy was one of these people on March 10.

The voting process is important, said Cappy, who worried that voters might lose confidence in the process.

Within a few days, however, she would have another chance to test the process.

Schwenk requested a second recount after learning that advice from the Secretary of State’s office led the Brattleboro Board of Civil Authority to diverge from state statute during the original recount.

There was nothing nefarious, said Schwenk, who felt the Town Clerk’s office had acted in good faith based on advice received from the Secretary of State’s office.

Recounting with precision

On March 17, the BCA gathered again for a second recount.

This time, five groups of four people counted packets of 50 ballots, compared to the previous four groups of three. Each packet was counted twice, and the two resulting tally sheets needed to match. If they did not, the ballots were recounted until the results were consistent.

Because the words “Schwenk” and “blank” sound very much alike, Cappy also instructed the counters to use the candidates’ first names on the second recount.

The first recount took approximately three hours. The second recount took closer to seven.

In the end, DeGray received 1,506 votes and Schwenk 1,505 — the same number as on March 1.

After the second recount, Schwenk, who had observed the count, said that he witnessed a lot of human error. But, he added, it was great to see how the process “caught and rectified” the errors.

“I have nothing to complain about,” he said. “I’m feeling good about it.”

Cappy was the most relieved by the second recount. The results came closer to the March 1 election results and electronic tabulation machines.

“I do feel better that it’s so close to election day,” she said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #349 (Wednesday, March 23, 2016). This story appeared on page C1.

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