Two days after the election, the Vermont gubernatorial race appears far from over.
After Republican candidate Scott Milne surprised virtually everyone including himself by garnering enough votes to nearly topple two-term incumbent Democrat Peter Shumlin, he refused to concede Thursday and hinted he may call for a recount.
Final vote tallies are not complete, with the Secretary of State’s office missing unofficial results from 10 districts. So far, Milne trails Shumlin by 2,436 votes. The final results are expected this weekend. Because Milne came within 2 percentage points of Shumlin, he has a legal right to call for a recount.
Shumlin declared victory Wednesday afternoon, but technically the race isn’t over yet.
Under the Vermont Constitution, the Legislature gets the final say on who will be the state’s next governor because no candidate garnered more than 50 percent of the votes. Lawmakers in January will choose between the top three vote-getters: Shumlin, Milne and Libertarian Dan Feliciano. That’s because a majority of voters (roughly 53 percent) cast ballots for someone other than Shumlin, though not all of those votes were for Milne.
Traditionally, the Legislature has elected the top finisher as governor regardless of party. The last time this happened was in 2010, when neither Shumlin nor Republican Brian Dubie garnered 50 percent. In 2002, when Republican Jim Douglas received 45 percent of the vote to Democrat Doug Racine’s 42 percent and independent Con Hogan’s 10 percent, Douglas was elected by the Democratically controlled Legislature. The last time the Legislature broke this precedent was in 1853, according to the Secretary of State’s website.
Milne has not held a news conference or addressed the public since election night. In a news release Thursday afternoon, Milne criticized Shumlin for calling himself the winner.
“If we move forward, I expect … I will be Vermont’s next governor,” he said.
VTDigger is underwritten by:
In pre-election statements to the Associated Press, Milne said he would concede to the winner of the election. He now appears to be reversing that position.
Milne’s campaign is calculating how many legislative districts voted for him, and it appears he may urge lawmakers to vote in line with their districts rather than their own party of preference.
The Vermont Constitution, however, says that “If, at any time, there shall be no election, of Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, or Treasurer, of the State, the Senate and House of Representatives shall by a joint ballot, elect to fill the office, not filled as aforesaid, one of the three candidates for such office (if there be so many) for whom the greatest number of votes shall have been returned.”
Milne pointed to a precedent — a 1976 race in which lawmakers chose Republican T. Garry Buckley, over Democrat John Alden, who took first place by less than 1 percentage point. At the time, the Vermont Attorney General was investigating Alden for fraud, a fact some lawmakers but not the public knew. In addition, Republicans at the time controlled the Legislature, said Vermont politics expert and retired Middlebury College professor Eric Davis.
A recount requires town clerks to bring ballots to county courthouses to be counted again. The last recount in a gubernatorial race was the 2012 Progressive Party primary, when Annette Smith asked for a recount in her contest against Martha Abbott. Abbott was the winner in the primary and was confirmed as the winner after the recount.
“From the beginning of this campaign, I promised Vermonters that I will always listen before I act,” Milne said in his statement. “I am hearing from Vermonters everywhere that this race is vital to our future, and that the problems before our state demand a sober and careful review before we decide our course. Once we understand the final facts and our options, we will speak more about our plans.”
Milne also said this is the “closest race in Vermont history.” That is almost correct, Davis said. Shumlin this cycle has the smallest popular vote margin in a gubernatorial election of the modern era (since 1962), he said.
Kunin’s 1984 victory over John Easton comes close; she won by about 3,600 votes, or a percentage margin of 1.6%. In unofficial returns so far, Shumlin has a lead of 1.3%.
CORRECTION: The last recount in a gubernatorial race was in the 2012 primary, not the general election. The Legislature also decided the 2010 governor’s race.
Missing out on the latest scoop? Sign up here to get a weekly email with all of VTDigger's reporting on politics. And in case you can't get enough of the Statehouse, sign up for Final Reading for a rundown on the day's news in the Legislature.