A Recount of the Recount
3/8/21 Recount of March votes
March 18, 2021
The Recount of the Selectboard 3-Year Seat and Merger Votes had a photo finish, after a temporary reversal of election results. The Retorter has dug deeper to uncover details since our initial report.
The recount process was a hand recount of ballots, which were originally tabulated mechanically on March 2nd at two polling places. The recount took place on March 8th at 81 Main Street, the Town Offices.
The Board of Civil Authority conducted the recount; the majority of counters that day were BCA members. The BCA is composed of Selectboard members and Justices of the Peace. Each team of counters had at least one BCA member.
To conduct the recount process there were six teams of two volunteers each, who counted fifty ballots at a time. One person would call out the votes from each ballot, such as “Haney, Yes” or “Delphia, No” or “Blank, No”, while their teammate recorded the votes.
Volunteers were told to use hash marks ( ) to tally their ballots, summing up the total for each outcome in the right-hand margin, which most groups did.
They switched roles and then called and counted the pile again. If tallies differed among the team, their stack was given to another team to repeat the process.
If both tallies agreed, counters signed off on their tally sheets, added them to the ballot bundle and a staff member swapped out the completed bundle for a new one. Staff then entered the tallied totals into a spreadsheet.
As straightforward as that method is, Selectboard Member Andy Watts said not every team followed that protocol. He was aware that at least one pair used a different process. They sorted the ballots by candidate first, then they counted each sub-stack. Next they sorted by Article II before counting its sub-stacks.
Also, not every group whose tallies differed immediately sent their stack to another team. In some cases, the same team re-tallied their bundle.
Resident Brad Kennison, who attended the entire recount, asked why not tabulate by machine. He was informed that hand-counts have taken place in the past; therefore, precedent was set for the recount requestor to choose one method or the other. Elaine Haney had asked for a hand count.
SB member-elect Tracy Delphia was also present and observed and reported to staff that at least one team was not following the hash mark procedure.
The Initial Results
After all votes were tabulated, the outcomes differed significantly from the vote on March 2nd. Those initial results were leaked, picked up by social media and even published in the VT Digger twitter feed. All contrary to admonitions from the Town Clerk.
BCA chair Dawn Hill-Fluery conducted a systematic and methodical reconciliation process. She manually added up the bundle tallies, and determined the grand totals were consistent with machine totals.
The TIV candidate and question tallies were also in line with the machine counts. It was only in the TOV totals that tallies varied widely from Tuesday’s result.
The Retorter has since learned that while going through the bundle totaling process, BCA members noticed that a number of the bundles did not have the requisite stroke counts on them. There were four, in fact, all from the same team. (Members of that team had no comment or did not return our calls.)
BCA Chair Dawn Hill-Fleury called for those bundles to be recounted and quite quickly she held up a tally sheet and exclaimed “Reversed”. Those bundles were fully recounted and confirmed the machine tally with only a slight difference.
Kennison suggested a simple change to a manual-plus-machine recount procedure. He asserted that it would be faster and more accurate. Rather than use two people to count the ballots twice, one could count the bundle and then that bundle could be run through a vote tabulator machine. Any discrepancy would be caught immediately, and the bundle recounted by a different individual.