Tag Archives: Secretary of State

The Littlest Boondoggle

A few days ago I heard, second-hand, of a brief encounter between an anonymous Vermonter and one of the state’s town clerks. The gist: the clerk was talking about a three-and-a-half-day workshop coming up this week. The clerk saw it as kind of a waste of time and taxpayer money, especially since it would be held in the tony precincts of the Jay Peak resort.

The session iis being held by the Secretary of State’s office, and is designed to teach clerks about the new integrated software system currently being implemented. Okay, fine, but does it really take three and a half days? And why Jay Peak, of all places? Doesn’t that cost a lot?

Questions worth asking, I thought. So I went to the source, Mr. Secretary Jim Condos himself. What I found out is that the unnamed town clerk was telling the truth, at least technically; but there were reasonable explanations for all of it. A little disappointing for political scandalmongers, but a story worth telling nonetheless.

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The Same-Day Boogeyman

Removing barriers to voter participation: it’s an issue that’s long overdue for some serious attention. Vermont’s new law, allowing same-day voter registration, is a nice start.

What else? Well, there’s no good reason other than tradition to hold elections on Tuesdays. Especially in Vermont, where polling places close at 7 p.m. That’s not much time for working folk to get to the polls.

But if you want to keep your Tuesday voting because Grandfather’s Light Bulb, then I’d suggest adoption of Hillary Clinton’s proposal for at least 20 days of early voting. That would give everyone a full opportunity to participate. Early voting has allowed many more to exercise their right when it’s been adopted.

“This is, I think, a moment when we should be expanding the franchise,” Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said in an interview. “What we see in state after state is this effort by conservatives to restrict the right to vote.”

Of course, the new law is being greeted with whining and carping from Vermonters with no apparent interest in getting more people to vote. Accounts of the bill becoming law were lightly sprinkled with comments from town clerks alleging that we’re opening the door to voter fraud.

Ah, voter fraud, favored chimera of conservatives. The Bush Administration bent its Justice Department to the task of rooting out voter fraud. And after eight full years of effort, they found a mere handful of cases. In a time when hundreds of millions of ballots were cast.

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Milne declines recount; Republican trolling to continue

Note: This post supersedes the earlier one entitled “Super Dave Stands Pat.”

The tedious business of democracy. Clockwise from front: Director of Elections WIll Senning, Secretary of State Jim Condos, Crystal Zevon of the Liberty Union Party, and Kelly Mangan of the Progressive Party. (And at right rear, former Free Press reporter Nancy Remsen.)

The tedious business of democracy. Clockwise from front: Director of Elections WIll Senning, Secretary of State Jim Condos, Crystal Zevon of the Liberty Union Party, and Kelly Mangan of the Progressive Party. (And at right rear, former Free Press reporter Nancy Remsen.)

The state board of canvassers met this morning in a hot, sticky conference room full of media folks awaiting the Big News.

Which, of course, was a complete anticlimax; the election results posted on the Secretary of State’s website were quickly confirmed, with Governor Shumlin holding a 2,434-vote lead over Scott Milne.

A couple hours, later, Milne issued a press release from his secure undisclosed location (seriously, I don’t know how this guy would handle it if he had to meet the media on a regular basis) saying that he would not request a recount. And adding the customary passive-aggressive note: “I trust that Peter Shumlin won the plurality.”

In other words, “I’m pretty sure Jim Condos didn’t steal this puppy.”

Also, he noted that “this race is one of the closest in Vermont history,” and Shumlin’s performance was extremely weak for an incumbent. In other words, “I lost, but I really won.”

And black is white, and war is peace.

Anyway, mighty white of him to forego the recount. But on the larger issue — will he pursue the race into the Legislature? — he was less forthcoming.

Milne plans to address the press and public in an announcement next week regarding the Legislature’s Constitutional duty in January.

“Next week,” by Milne’s standards, might be anytime between tomorrow and Christmas Day.

But I’m not surprised that he’s continuing to troll the entire state with his novel reasoning that the loser should be declared the winner. He’s not alone; VTGOP chair “Super Dave” Sunderland attended the canvassers’ meeting, and did some heavy trolling afterward.

Uh, Dave... I don't think Stewie's buying it.

Uh, Dave… I don’t think Stewie’s buying it.

He told the media that it’s not up to Milne whether to pursue the legislative option because “The Constitution lays out the process that needs to happen. There’s no avoiding a vote in January. It’s required.”

Which is technically true, but in the past, losing candidates have voluntarily withdrawn before the legislature’s vote, to banish uncertainty and allow the winner to get on with the business of governing.

His advice for the candidate?

My advice to Scott is to follow his instincts and do what’s best for Vermont. We certainly have a clear popular vote winner, and you know, how it breaks down in the Legislature district by district tells us maybe a little bit different story, and I think Scott’s weighing those options right now.

Ah, the district-by-district canard. An argument that’s never, ever been raised before in Vermont history. Don’t believe me? Well, Paul Heintz went to an unimpheachable source: former state archivist Gregory Sanford, who said that Milne’s district-by-district idea “simply has no precedent.”

Sanford also outlined all three times when the top vote-getter was not elected governor, and all three had a distinctly fishy smell:

In 1789, legislators ditched incumbent Thomas Chittenden in favor of Moses Robinson after the former was ensnared in a sketchy land deal. In 1835, lawmakers cast 63 inconclusive ballots before giving up and letting lieutenant governor Silas Jennison serve as acting governor. And in 1853, the Democrats and Free Soil Democrats teamed up to steal the state’s top jobs from the Whigs, whose slate of candidates won pluralities.

But Sunderland? This guardian of the Vermont Way is clinging to Milne’s non-precedent. When the former state representative was asked how he would vote if given the chance, he danced around for a while before giving a kinda-sorta answer:

Well, I think every election is different. And I think every legislator is different year to year, session to session, district to district. My district, in this election, voted strongly for Scott Milne, and I would definitely take that into consideration, unless there were some other um strong um… uh… some strong push from a personal conscience standpoint, um, I think I’d be inclined to vote the way my constituents voted in my district. But that’s not to say there might be exceptions.

Yup, the Republican trolling continues apace. They know that the legislature is not going to ignore precedent and choose the loser over the winner. But they want to keep the question open as long as they can, to distract our attention and pester the Democrats.

Condos v. Eastwood: A surprisingly tame encounter

I had some hopes for VPR’s big Secretary of State debate at noon today. Incumbent Democrat Jim Condos, who also won the Republican nomination on a write-in vote but threw it back like a dead fish, faced off against Progressive Ben Eastwood.

I was expecting some sparks to fly. After all, it was Eastwood who spiked a motion at the Progs’ June convention to endorse Condos, referring to Mr. Secretary as a “crony capitalist.” And Eastwood has shown himself to be a loose cannon in the public sphere. So I was expecting Young Ben to come out with guns a-blazin’.

Well, he didn’t. He was, for the most part, rather passive. Also nervous, occasionally uninformed, and in general gave listeners no real reason to vote for him.

In fact, Jim Condos was the more aggressive of the two, pressing Eastwood on his past characterizations of corporations and lobbyists and Condos himself, and his ability to take on the numerous duties of the office. I’d expected Condos to just sail above the fray and basically ignore his challenger, but apparently some of Eastwood’s criticisms had hit a nerve.

For his part, Eastwood occasionally mentioned his past criticisms of Condos, but mostly in passing — as a way to add a little color to his questions and statements.

He did manage to do one thing that, for instance, Scott Milne failed to do: when given the opportunity to ask his opponent a question, he was ready with a good, solid, pertinent one about using the Secretary’s office to oversee lobbyists. Condos had no trouble answering it, but at least it was a solid effort.

Overall, though, Eastwood didn’t have much to offer. Which figures; he’s a young man with a background as an activist, but little or none as an administrator. And the Secretary of State’s office, more than anything else, is a big honkin’ bureaucracy that requires a steady administrative hand. As a political writer, I interact with one piece of that office — elections and campaign finance. There are four other major divisions: Corporate registration, professional regulation, archives and records, and providing information and advice to local governments. That’s a lot of responsibility.

Eastwood did offer a few ideas, but almost all of them had to do with campaigns and elections, and most are actually outside of the office’s purview. His top priority, he said, would be to create an online information exchange where the public could access legislation, testimony, and other information — and also provide input. A Reddit sort of community marketplace of ideas.

Condos’ rejoinder: that’s something for the Legislature to do online, not the Secretary of State. He has advised the Legislature on updating its website and enhancing transparency, but he can’t create the kind of open forum that Eastwood wants to see.

I could cite other examples, but the point is, Ben Eastwood is young, inexperienced, and enthusiastic. Some of his enthusiasms are germane; many are not. But in this debate, he failed to make a case against Condos, and failed to establish himself as a serious applicant for the job.

He did manage one thing, though: he didn’t embarrass himself or his party.

Well, somebody’s trying to fill all those empty slots

Last night I was having dinner with The Loyal Spouse, and we were talking about the Vermont Republican Party’s dearth of statewide candidates — no official hopefuls for Attorney General, Auditor, Secretary of State, or Treasurer. I half-jokingly said I was thinking of starting a “Me for AG” write-in campaign — asking my Tens of VPO Readers to consider writing me in for Attorney General on the Republican primary ballot.

I guess somebody out there was listening, because That Very Same Evening, the following showed up in my Twitter feed: Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 3.57.43 AM

That’s the Burlington Republicans, or whoever does their Tweets, soliciting write-in votes for a Burlington lawyer for Attorney General. The Facebook link is to a newly-established FB page for a group called “RecruitFour.” Its purpose is to find Republicans willing to run for those statewide offices.

Guess this puts the kibosh on my own candidacy. But sorry as I might be to lose a chance at some Fred Tuttle-style low comedy, I’m heartened to see somebody — ANYBODY — step up and try to fill this embarrassing shortfall. It’d be a bad thing, really, if a random collection of write-ins (or a coordinated joke write-in campaign, ahem) were able to snag these precious ballot slots. As much as I revel in Republican misfortune, it is one of our major parties, and it has a role to play in the process. Not really a good thing for democracy if the Republican ticket were to include the likes of Yours Truly, Vermin Supreme, Lobsterman, and Annette Smith.

So far, Recruit Four has gotten all the way up to One. McCormack is a very youthful looking attorney with the law firm of Burak, Anderson & Melloni. According to his bio page on the firm’s website, he got his law degree from Boston University in 2000, and was admitted to the Vermont Bar in 2004.

RecruitFour describes Shane-O-Mac’s view of the AG’s office thusly:

Shane would make a great Vermont Attorney General because he believes this office needs to do more to curb our legislature from entering into unwarranted action that only leads to millions in legal costs–money we cannot afford.

Good old Republican thinking, that. Although I doubt that a Republican AG would get very far with that argument in a one-sidedly Democratic Legislature.

Anyhoo, best of luck to Mr.McCormack and RecruitFour. Even if it does force a premature end to my own political ambitions, it’d be good to have some actual Republicans running on the Republican ticket.