Progressive primary: Smith comes up short, vows write-in campaign
By Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Press Bureau | September 18,2012
MONTPELIER — A closely watched recount appears to have settled once and for all the winner of the Progressive gubernatorial primary. But while the winner of the race has bowed out of the general election, the loser has vowed to fight on.
Based on preliminary results from the recount, it looks all but certain that party stalwart Martha Abbott will stave off a challenge from write-in candidate Annette Smith.
Abbott clung to a one-vote victory after the first tally. But the recount revealed an apparent transcription glitch in Westfield that resulted in an erroneous 53-vote jump for Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, an organization known for amplifying local scrutiny of ridgeline wind projects.
The new unofficial count is 381-340, though the results won’t become official until a judge signs off on them at another hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday.
As she previously signaled, Abbott will bow out of the race for governor, leaving Democrat Peter Shumlin and Republican Randy Brock as the lone major-party candidates in the general election. Abbott said Shumlin’s support for single-payer health care has compelled the party to endorse his candidacy.
Smith, however, used Monday’s hearing at Vermont Superior Court in Montpelier to launch a write-candidacy for governor.
“There is clearly a need for a candidate to be a candidate of the people, and that’s what I obviously am,” Smith said. “I am not a politician. I am someone who has been in leadership roles in Vermont for more than a dozen years and have been called to do this, so I’m going to step up and do it.”
In addition to mountaintop wind development, Smith’s organization has taken aim at issues including chloramine in public drinking water supplies, F-35s being stationed in Vermont, and wireless “smart meters” being installed on the homes of ratepayers.
“What I hear over and over is people are fed up with corporate government and they want the people back in power,” Smith said outside a Montpelier courtroom. “We’ll jut see. If there’s a popular uprising out there, I want to give people a chance to express it.”
Vermont elections chief Kathy Scheele said the recount saga exposed shortcomings in the system that Secretary of State Jim Condos aims to solve by moving the primary date to earlier in the year.
The narrow window of time between the Aug. 28 primary and the deadline to get general election ballots off to overseas military personnel, Scheele said, forced elections workers in her office to put in the kind of long hours that inevitably lead to human error.
As to the error in the Westfield count, Scheele said, “Someone went to hit 5, and they hit the 5 and 8 together, and it printed out 58.”
“When you’ve already worked 80 hours that week you don’t notice that,” Scheele said. “The solution is to move the primary to May or June, which we asked for in 2010.”
Scheele said Condos will urge lawmakers to adopt other changes, including expanding the amount of time between the primary vote and the date on which the results are certified, from one week to two.
Additionally, Scheele said, Condos wants would be write-in winners to have to declare their write-in candidacies in advance, “so that we would know to look for that name.”
Smith said she has already accepted an invitation to an Oct. 11 debate in Bennington in which Randy Brock has agreed to participate. They’ll keep an empty chair on the stage in case Gov. Shumlin wants to join them, Smith said.
The Shumlin campaign had no comment about Smith’s candidacy.
At the court hearing this morning, Smith said she’ll raise concerns about the integrity of the recount in some counties. But she said she doesn’t know if she’ll ask for another recount.
The recount revealed only six ballots on which elections officials were unable to decipher the voter’s intent. The status of those ballots will be resolved at today’s hearing.