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Confusion Regarding Vermont Lieutenant Governor Vote Margin

Vermont Lieutenant Governor-elect David Zuckerman
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont Lieutenant Governor-elect David Zuckerman

Will the Vermont Legislature need to decide the state's next lieutenant governor? There appears to be some debate after the Secretary of State released the official canvass on Tuesday.
The Vermont Secretary of State's official canvass of the Election Day vote shows Progressive Democrat David Zuckerman received 49.85 percent. But that tally included ballots with votes for lieutenant governor that were left blank. If those are excluded Zuckerman got about 52 percent of votes cast.

Zuckerman says he alerted both the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Senate last Friday regarding the blank ballot count.   The Lieutenant Governor-elect notes that the state constitution says he must get 50 percent of the votes cast and the question is how to interpret votes cast.   “The Secretary of State is determining that someone taking a ballot and not voting in the election for lieutenant governor is still casting a vote. Whereas most people I’ve talked to and the Secretary of the Senate are determining that a vote cast means you actually fill in an oval, whether for one of the listed candidates which in this case there were three of us, or whether you write in someone else and fill in the oval.  And that’s where the discrepancy comes in.”

Zuckerman adds that about 13,000 Vermont voters did not make a selection in the Lieutenant Governor’s race.   “Depending if you divide by the total number of ballots or the total number of ballots minus those 13,000 people that did not vote in the lieutenant governor’s race that changes the math outcome below, just below 50 percent to 52 percent.  And you know I think it’s ultimately an important technical distinction and one that needs to be addressed. But it’s not going to change the outcome as to my being elected Lieutenant Governor.”

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos was unavailable for comment Wednesday.  Middlebury College Professor Emeritus of Political Science Eric Davis is among those who dispute his computational method, saying the count should not have included blank ballots.  “The Constitution refers to the major part of the votes and that has always been interpreted historically as the majority of the votes actually cast for the office not counting blanks.  So I do not believe there is a controversy on this issue.  I believe the interpretation of the Secretary of the Senate is correct and that Mr. Zuckerman did receive a majority of the votes cast, enough he satisfies the constitutional requirements.”

University of Vermont Professor of Political Science Garrison Nelson is aghast that the state’s top election official would even consider counting blanks in the official results.   “Every election in America the denominator is the number of votes not the number of ballots. Period. And that’s why this seems like an unnecessary piece of business, uncertainty that’s being added to this particular contest.”

Secretary of the Senate John Bloomer says the Secretary of State must account for all ballots, and the website where the count is posted is confusing.   “When you look at the Secretary of State’s website it looks like Senator David Zuckerman has 49.85 percent of the vote.  But that includes spoiled votes.  If you look down through there’s 189 of those. But those clearly are not votes that you count as a percentage.  And similarly you don’t count blank votes.  I think some confusion was created.  When you readjust for actual votes David Zuckerman ended up having more than 50 percent and I don’t believe there’s going to be any election on that Thursday by the Legislature as a whole. I mean the Constitution uses the word vote not ballot.”

Republican Randy Brock received 43.48 percent and Liberty Union candidate Boots Wardinski got 2.2 percent of the vote in the race.

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