GOP presidential primary candidate Mitt Romney won Vermont as predicted, but he came up short when it came down to nailing delegates. The former Massachusetts governor garnered 39 percent of the vote, 11 points short of the 50 percent he needed to grab all 17 delegates from the Green Mountain State. In the end, Romney walked away with 11 Vermonters on his delegate tally.
Longtime political observer Eric Davis says Romney’s shortfall was consistent with his performance in other states where he has seen sharp competition from his rivals. Rick Santorum has attracted socially conservative voters in the Midwest, and even in Vermont won 23.5 percent of the vote. Romney’s Libertarian rival, Ron Paul, did particularly well, Davis says, because his anti-war message resonated with independent voters and enabled him to siphon off votes. Paul received 25.6 percent of the primary ballots in Vermont, according to unofficial statewide election numbers.
The new chair of the local GOP, however, is blaming the Secretary of State’s office for Romney’s unfavorable results. John Lindley, a Romney supporter and longtime Vermont Republican who has been on the job as chair for just a few weeks, says he wants the Vermont Secretary of State to examine alleged poll reporting irregularities. Lindley says a new state reporting system for municipal officials led to anomalous results that were posted on the Secretary of State’s website Tuesday night. He stopped short, however, of calling for a formal probe.
“I’m not asking for an investigation,” Lindley said. “I’m asking for an examination by the Secretary of State whose principal responsibility is to validate the integrity of the ballot in Vermont.”
The state, for the first time, asked town clerks to voluntarily submit unofficial polling results to a password-protected website. About 70 percent of polls were reporting online. Complete results will not be certified by the Secretary of State’s office until next Tuesday.
Jim Condos, Secretary of State, said the new election results website page for the presidential primary is a pilot project. Condos said he was very pleased with the high percentage of responses from town clerks, and he hopes to offer unofficial vote counts for statewide races in the fall. There was some confusion, however, on Tuesday because his staff hadn’t removed test results for some towns in advance of Town Meeting Day.
“The mistake the GOP made yesterday was they were thinking these were official results — they weren’t,” Condos said. “It’s hard not to think it’s sour grapes. They thought Romney would take 50 percent, and they’re looking to blame somebody and they’re blaming our office.”
Lindley, an insurance broker from Burlington, applauds the secretary’s attempt to bring elections into the 21st century, but he questions the way the secretary’s office conducted its “experiment.” He cited three examples of municipalities — Eden, Grand Isle and South Hero — that reported vote counts on the state website that differed from those used by CNN, which was also tracking town by town reports. Lindley complained that John Huntsman, a GOP primary candidate who dropped out weeks ago, at one point on the site appeared to have won in South Hero — even though Romney took the race with 43 percent of the vote.
“Obviously the Secretary of State’s site was not accurate,” Lindley said. “Their response was this was an unofficial tally. I’m not sure what kind of system we’re running here, either we have it right or we don’t.”
About 800 provisional Burlington ballots, including about 200 that weren’t matched with Social Security cards or driver’s licenses, Lindley says, should have been challenged by Republican candidate for mayor, Kurt Wright. He also says local officials haven’t scrubbed the checklist of ineligible voters and consequently, as many as 7,000 new voters are on the rolls.
“Any party would have an opportunity to challenge provisional ballots and they’ve walked away with that, which I think is regrettable,” Lindley said. “So what have we got? We don’t even know if they’re Americans.”
Davis, a retired professor emeritus of political science from Middlebury College, says the Secretary of State’s online reporting was accurate. He compared the state’s town by town results with those used by CNN, which came from the Associated Press.
“I don’t see any evidence of irregularities in the way ballots were counted,” Davis said. “I don’t see any of the things Republicans said were occurring.”
Romney’s real problem, Davis said, was Ron Paul, who won close to 100 towns. Independent voters who live north of Routes 2 and 302 and tend to be Sen. Bernie Sanders supporters were more likely to vote for Paul over Romney. That’s in part because Paul, a noninterventionist libertarian, ran as a “candidate for peace” — he wants American troops pulled out of Afghanistan.
Paul would not have upset the apple cart, however, if Democrats and independents hadn’t voted in the Republican presidential primary, Davis said. Though there was no evidence that the Democratic Party organized a get out the Santorum vote, but it was clear, he said, that the primary attracted a lot of independents. Exit polls show that about 49 percent of the presidential primary voters were Republican, 41 percent were independents and 10 percent were Democrats, Davis says. About 31,536 Vermonters cast ballots for President Barack Obama on the Democratic ticket; 45,366 voters participated in the Republican primary.
Putney, Gov. Peter Shumlin’s hometown, overwhelmingly supported Santorum. Davis suspects the votes came from Democrats.
“If Vermont had a closed primary, and we had to limited ballots to Republicans only Romney would have come in at 50 percent,” Davis said.
Romney cleared the 50 percent barrier in only 20 towns in Vermont, most of which are in the Massachusetts border counties.
His performance in Vermont mirrored that of other states. Romney barely won Ohio and the only states that gave him a clear majority were Massachusetts, where he was a one-term governor, and Idaho and Nevada, which have large blocks of Mormon voters. (He is a Mormon.)
Condos said the presidential primary was a good test, and he hopes to start ramping up the online reporting system for the statewide races in the General Election primary on Aug. 28. By Election Day, he hopes to have results “down to the House of Representatives level.” In January, he wants to ask the Legislature to consider making online reporting a requirement, and in 2013, Condos hopes to make the online reporting system available for local races.