Republicans in disarray over U.S. House, state Senate races
Putney saw 34 percent of its voters turn out for the Aug. 9 primary elections, among the highest in Windham County.

Republicans in disarray over U.S. House, state Senate races

Madden decides to accept GOP nomination and Redic will run as a Libertarian; no clarity yet on three-way race for Windham County Senate seats

BRATTLEBORO — The race for the U.S. House seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Peter Welch is not as clear-cut as it looked on election night.

While Becca Balint of Brattleboro easily won the Democratic nomination, the top two vote-getters in the Republican primary will be running against the Senate president pro tem under different banners.

Liam Madden of Rockingham received 35 percent of the vote to win the Republican primary, but there was some question about whether he would accept the nomination.

Throughout the campaign, Madden has said that if he were to win the Republican nomination, he would decline it, instead running in November as an independent. But on the morning of Aug. 10, he told VTDigger that his decision would depend on whether the Republican Party would run a separate candidate to take his place.

“I would happily take the Republican label and keep it a two-person race, because the label means nothing to me,” he said. “The actual chance of winning means a lot more.”

However, by the end of the day, Madden said he realized he could not appear on the ballot as an independent because he had failed to register in time.

So he will run as a Republican, but without the support of the party.

“I didn't understand the rules. So I have learned today that it was really a foregone conclusion,” Madden said. “Either way, I don't think the Republican Party would keep the ballot open and let me run unchallenged. I'm keeping the 'R,' and nothing else about me changes.”

Madden, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, later became an anti-war advocate, helping lead the group Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Now working in solar energy, he said that some of his progressive viewpoints on war and climate change would help him win over voters.

“[Balint] can't count on those kinds of liberal credentials being all in her court,” Madden said. “I think I stand apart from Becca in that I'm not there to put a kind face on a broken system.”

The second-place finisher, with 27 percent of the vote in the Republican primary, right-wing content creator and accountant Ericka Redic, immediately attacked Madden's decision and announced that she would be running as the Libertarian Party candidate in November.

“Liam Madden is the embodiment of corruption in Washington,” Redic said in a Aug. 11 news release. “He made a promise to Vermonters and as soon as he realized he failed to properly execute his strategy, he's breaking his promise to you and doing what is politically advantageous for himself.”

“We cannot trust him in leadership,” she said.

Uncertainty for GOP candidates for state Senate

Democratic nominees Nader Hashim and Wendy Harrison are still waiting to see which Republicans will be facing them in the November election for Windham County's two state Senate seats.

Westminster logger Mark Coester received 643 votes for the seat in Tuesday's Republican primary, followed by Brattleboro tax preparer Richard Kenyon with 625 votes and Richard Morton, a retired Brattleboro bank compliance and security officer, with 585 votes, according to unofficial results.

State GOP officials had hoped Windham County voters would favor the similar-looking names of Richard “Rick” Kenyon and Richard “Rick” Morton after Coester marched in Colchester's Fourth of July parade with a flag associated with authoritarianism and a “Pepe the Frog” drawing, a symbol linked to white nationalists.

“I'm encouraging every Republican to vote for the other two established Republicans in that primary,” state GOP Chair Paul Dame told VTDigger last month.

But that didn't stop people from voting for Coester, who also filed a petition to run for U.S. Senate as an independent.

State law, however, prohibits anyone from appearing on the ballot as an independent if they're a candidate of an organized political party. Likewise, a winner of a party primary can't switch and run as an independent - the same rule that Madden said tripped him up.

As a result, Coester has a choice: accept the Republican nomination for state Senate or decline it and continue with an independent run for the U.S. Senate.

Coester has yet to publicize a decision. But if he aims for the U.S. Senate, the Windham County Republican Committee has voted to name Kenyon and Morton as its official candidates for two state Senate seats.

Only Democrats have won county Senate races races in the past 30 years. This year is the first in two decades that both Windham Senate seats are open, as Balint, the incumbent, has stepped down as pro tem to run for Congress and colleague Jeanette White is retiring after serving in the 30-member chamber for two decades.

In addition to Hashim and Harrison, Brattleboro Selectboard member Tim Wessel will be on the November ballot as an independent candidate.

Paige settles on secretary of state run

Perennial Republican candidate H. Brooke Paige won his party's nomination for attorney general, auditor, treasurer, and secretary of state.

Since he can run for only one position in the general election, Paige announced last week that he will accept the nomination for secretary of state. That decision clears the way for the party to name replacement nominees in those races.

Typically, the party nominates replacements for ballot lines that a primary winner has rescinded. That has happened in previous elections with Paige.

“Open primaries are toxic,” Paige said on Aug. 10. By seeking so many offices, he said, his goal is to prevent Democrats from winning empty Republican primaries by writing in their own candidates, effectively preventing a true Republican from running in the general election.

If elected secretary of state, Paige said, his goals would include ensuring election integrity, reducing the oversight power of the Office of Professional Regulation, and rolling back expansions to mail-in voting implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But having defended Republican representation on the ballot in four primaries, he's already achieved part of his platform.

The retirement of longtime Democratic incumbent Jim Condos left a wide-open race in that primary between Chris Winters, Condos's longtime deputy, and Sarah Copeland Hanzas, a veteran lawmaker who chairs the House Committee on Government Operations. Hanzas narrowly defeated Winters by 1,820 votes in the closest primary race in either party for statewide office.

Respectable turnout for primary

According to preliminary data from the Secretary of State's Office, voter turnout on Aug. 9 was the second highest since Vermont switched its party primary date to August in 2010, with 26.5 percent of the state's registered voters casting ballots.

The highest turnout came in 2020, during the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, when more than 114,000 people voted by mail and swelled the participation rate to 35 percent.

Secretary of State Jim Condos said last week that this year's primary turnout rate was relatively high because of the sheer number of competitive races on the ballot. In addition to Vermont's first open congressional seat in 16 years, voters weighed in on contests for four open statewide offices and dozens of competitive legislative races.

Preliminary estimates show at least 50,000 people had voted using early or absentee ballots. That suggests mail-in primary voting remains more common than in pre-pandemic election years, but significantly diminished from 2020.

In Windham County, Marlboro had the highest turnout at 44 percent. Dummerston was second highest at 39 percent, while Athens and Windham had a 35 percent turnout, and Putney, a 34 percent turnout.

Brattleboro had the lowest voter turnout rate in the county at just 13 percent, while Dover and Vernon both had an 18 percent turnout.

As for participation by party, preliminary data from the Secretary of State's office found more than 102,000 people voted in the Democratic primary, while the Republican primary had roughly 30,000 voters.

All election results are still unofficial until certified by the Secretary of State. They were to have been certified on Aug. 16, but the office's customary post-election canvass has been delayed.

According to an Aug. 16 news release from Eric Covey, Condos's chief of staff, “the state's contractor has been unable to resolve an administrative technology issue impacting the office's ability to generate reports based on the official return of votes submitted by town and city clerks.”

Covey said that office staff “continue to work around the clock with the state's software contractor to identify a solution and produce reports based on the official return of votes submitted by the clerks.”

This process, Covey said, “is separate and distinct from the official counting of ballots and the local certification of official results by the town clerks. The Secretary of State's office wants to assure the public that these administrative delays do not impact the 100 percent confidence we have in the accuracy of the vote totals for all candidates as reported by the town clerks.”

The canvassing process by the Secretary of State's office was described by Covey as “a careful and deliberate process defined in statute” and that the office “will always default to a delay to ensure integrity and confidence of the results when they are certified.”

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