Bob Frenier: Keeping the vote sacred

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Bob Frenier, a newly elected Republican representative to the Vermont House from the Orange-1 district. A Chelsea area resident since 1992, he is an active trustee of the Chelsea Health Center and a former volunteer firefighter/EMT.

Democrats and Progressives in the Vermont Legislature are about to override a local election that was conducted correctly and lawfully by experienced town clerks and certified by a Vermont court. They are using the Legislature’s constitutional authority to rule on the “qualifications and elections” of its members to override the election of a Republican by counting the votes in the Orange-1 District for a third time.

There are several troubling aspects to this. One is that the original vote count wasn’t all that close and the closely supervised recount changed only one vote. The original hand or tabulator vote count in the six towns of the Orange-1 District showed Republican challenger Bob Frenier won the election with 1,853 votes while incumbent Progressive Susan Hatch Davis received only 1,845 votes. An all-tabulator recount and court certification process showed Davis’ vote remained unchanged at 1,845 while Frenier lost one vote and got 1,852. Why is a third count needed?

Another sobering element is the re-recount will be done by legislators themselves, not election professionals, and according to rules of the majority party’s own making, not according Vermont election statutes. The majority party specifically rejected a minority party amendment that would have required any further vote counting to be conducted according to Vermont law. The partisan nature of that decision offers Vermonters no constitutional or statutory assurances the will of Orange-1 voters will be respected.

What losing candidate in a future close election will accept the outcome of a court-certified recount if they can address their grievances to their party colleagues in the Legislature, even if no meaningful procedural errors can be cited?


In her report to the Legislature, Government Operations chair Maida Townsend, D-South Burlington, said the main reason for wanting a third count of the votes was that, BEFORE ballots were inserted into the tabulator, they had not been inspected for stray marks on the paper that might have altered the tabulators legendary reputation for accuracy. She ignored the fact that state law requires such inspections AFTER the tabulator count and she presented no evidence to the full House that any stray marks even existed.

Thetford Town Clerk Tracy Borst disputed Rep. Townsend’s allegations in a letter to House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and other state officials. “The ballots were viewed first, as they went into the tabulator, then either viewed a second time for voter intent, or counted (viewed) a second and third time if they were in the hand count pile. Visual inspection is certainly part of our procedures. In my opinion, the recount team did their due diligence, followed procedures, and confirmed the results. Representative Townsend is mistaken if she believes the ballots were not visually inspected in the recount process. This all could have been clarified if the officials that conducted the recount had been invited to testify.”

The impact of this fact-free legislative decision to interfere in Vermont’s non-partisan election process will be considerable for some time to come unless House Democrats reconsider. What losing candidate in a future close election will accept the outcome of a court-certified recount if they can address their grievances to their party colleagues in the Legislature, even if no meaningful procedural errors can be cited?

More importantly, how can Vermont voters be guaranteed their votes will always be counted in a fair and non-partisan way if this third counting of the ballots in Orange-1 is allowed to be conducted for spurious reasons by legislators who voted along party lines to ignore existing law when they count votes? Alexander Hamilton said, “This great source of free government, popular election, should be perfectly pure, and the most unbounded liberty allowed.” Our own Vermont constitution has similar sentiments: “That all elections ought to be free and without corruption …”

But based on a sloppy investigation that misrepresented crucial facts, the Vermont House of Representatives has chosen along party lines to override a court-certified election result. So their new vote count will be neither “perfectly pure” nor guaranteed to be conducted “without corruption.” Since all the traditional safeguards have been removed, House Speaker Johnson needs to review all the facts and put a stop to this before real damage is done to Vermont’s sacred tradition of non-partisan elections.

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  • Ivan Shadis

    The election results are unlikely to be overturned.
    The point of imposing this legislative recount is unclear.
    If the majority party is concerned with standardizing the evaluation process for determining defective ballots, as seems to be their grievance here, why not have members of the House committee on Government Operations compose and introduce a bill to that end?

  • wendywilton

    There is a time for principle before politics. Now is one of those times. So sad to see what our legislature has become

  • Jamie Carter

    Bob, Townsend is going to steal this election from you. If I were you, I would demand her resignation on the floor of the house and ask the House to boot her if she does not step down. The house has the authority to rule on the qualifications of it’s members and she very obviously does not have the ethical and moral qualifications to be a member of the legislature.

  • Christopher Daniels

    I’d give this argument credence if Mr. Frenier’s party was on the forefront of respecting the right of the people to vote across the country. Instead, his party focuses on the mythical voter fraud, implements restrictions on voting, reduces funding and access to voting sites, and gerrymanders districts. It seems voting is sacred only when it produces the outcome he and his party desires.

  • This has become a Republican whine fest. Bob, you voluntarily ran for the office of state representative, and part of being in that office is allowing processes to play out. (Didn’t you also swear to uphold the Vermont state constitution?) Perhaps your fear and claim that the Dems are definitely going to overturn your election stems from the fact you know something was wrong with the election?

    Be respectful of the rest of us. Let us sleep well knowing that the integrity of OUR (not your) election system has been upheld.

    • John donohue

      Rama, you are usually heavy on facts (when they are in your favor), sadly in this case, you sound like just another party sycophant. Two vote counts done by the people elected/appointed to do them and then court certified. Not good enough? Really? Yet another recount with no evidence of wrong doing and a refusal to follow state law, you speak of integrity, lol. I guess voting to you means keep counting until you get the result you want, not the one that was done twice, witnessed by representatives of both parties and court certified. Perhaps you should respect the system the people of Vermont put in place, the election officials and party representatives who make it work and witnessed the recount and the judges we entrust to uphold our laws instead of wasting our taxpayer money on a settled issue. Sad.

      • Fact 1) I am not a member of any political party. As a matter of fact when I ran for state representative three years ago it was as an independent – including all that entailed.

        Fact 2) The system that exists in Vermont explicitly allows for an appeal to the legislature. That is not something I made up – it is in the state constitution (which Frenier presumably swore an oath to uphold).

        Fact 3) This is not about “wrong doing” as you assert. This is about whether or not the votes were counted in a manner that reflects the will of the voters (of which I do happen to be one of).

        • Matt Young

          Rama, the votes have been counted…TWICE. I guess lots of folks have trouble accepting the results of elections.

    • Jamie Carter

      “Perhaps your fear and claim that the Dems are definitely going to
      overturn your election stems from the fact you know something was wrong
      with the election?”

      Or perhaps its because he believes something with the recount will be terribly wrong… like letting a former Dem. Party Chair decide which ballots can be counted and which ones can’t. Especially when said former chair has already stated she is “looking for additional votes.”

      If Integrity is what you are looking for, you will not find it in this recount. Johnson has cast her first stone as speaker and it was a big one. She just showed why she isn’t fit to be speaker of the house.

      I think every Republican that lost an election should now petition the House to conduct a recount. Fair is fair. But we need a former Rep Party Chair to oversee contested ballots. Something tells me Mitzi would shoot that down quickly because we all know what’s good for the goose is only good for the goose.

    • Jamie Carter

      “Let us sleep well knowing that the integrity of OUR (not your) election system has been upheld.”

      You should be sure to let all the town clerks and election officials in the state know you don’t trust them and do not believe them to have the integrity to conduct an election. Instead, you believe a purely partisian body has more integrity then do the town clerks who were duly elected specifically for that job.

  • Bill Peberdy

    Really ?
    “…the original vote count wasn’t all that close”
    The first count was 1,853 Frenier to 1,845 for Hatch,Davis. Eight votes,and that was narrowed to seven on the first recount seems pretty close to me.

  • Dan DeCoteau

    This is how continual one party rule can and will corrupt the government. People complain about taxes, fees, regulations and questionable ethics but every election they return the same people from the same party to the golden bubble in Montpelier. Doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome has been called the definition of crazy. As far as Rama’s comment, he has been a rabid liberal for years and had to leave a radio news program because he always injected his liberal opinion into the news.