Controversial comments Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos made about a voter fraud lawsuit in the Northeast Kingdom aren’t sitting well with one of the attorneys in the case.
In an interview last month with Seven Days, the state’s top election official pre-judged the outcome of a voter fraud case playing out in Essex County Superior Court.
“We have not seen any true voter fraud,” Condos said.
Condos did more than offer his unofficial “not guilty” to the defendants, however; he proceeded to disparage the plaintiff and defendants personally.
“What you’ve got is the Hatfields and McCoys going at it. It seems like all they do is file lawsuits against one another and try to make life difficult for one another,” Condos told Seven Days.
Deborah Bucknam, attorney for the plaintiff, Tracey Martel, says Condos’ remarks were “very inappropriate.”
“He talks about the Hatfields and the McCoys? Well, my client isn’t a hillbilly — she’s a professional woman and she has to go to court (to seek justice),” she said.
“This case is all about corruption in the town of Victory. Secretary Condos reveals an arrogance about rural Vermonters and an ignorance of the facts in this case.”
In a March 21 complaint, Bucknam alleges that Victory’s voter checklist contains unqualified voters and non-residents, 11 of whom cast absentee ballots on Town Meeting Day. The complaint further states that multiple non-residents were illegally added to the voter checklist, in violation of a constitutional mandate that elections be “free and without corruption.”
According to Seven Days reporter Mark Davis, Condos reasoned that because residency and voter eligibility laws are complex, as long as people vote somewhere in Vermont and only once, their actions likely aren’t fraudulent.
Bucknam criticized the secretary of state for weighing in on a case pending in Superior Court.
“It violates the separation of powers doctrine. … (Members of) the executive branch don’t comment on pending legal cases — they just don’t do it,” she said.
Bucknam added that Condos’ comments about the merits of the case have harmed her client.
“A member of the Victory Board of Civil Authority has already used the secretary’s comments as evidence that the voter checklist in the town of Victory need not be changed, and that my client is going to lose,” she said.
Representatives at the Secretary of State’s office did not return True North’s request for comment.
On Town Meeting Day, Martel ran for town clerk and treasurer against incumbent Carol Easter, but lost by less than four votes. Martel is asking for a revote after the voter checklist is purged of fraudulent voters.
Another contested race — a Selectboard contest between incumbent Lionel Easter and Otis McKennistry that ended up in a tie — was rescheduled for a run-off in April, but the judge postponed the election due to absentee ballot concerns.
Condos’ dismissive attitude toward voter fraud appears to extend beyond Victory. Last week he criticized President Donald Trump for creating a commission on election integrity. “I am deeply troubled by the announcement that the president signed an executive order establishing a commission to review alleged voter fraud in our elections,” Condos said in a commentary sent to news media.
Attorney Dan Richardson, who is representing the town of Victory in the case, said he didn’t think Condos violated the law in his comments to Seven Days.
“It doesn’t mean that this isn’t a serious case, it is. But the secretary’s comments haven’t affected the case,” Richardson told True North Reports.
Richardson argues that the lawsuit is more about personalities than politics.
“These kinds of disputes in Victory have been going on since the 1990s,” he said. Indeed, stories about Victory’s disputes over the years have appeared in newspapers from Boston to Burlington.
Bucknam and Martel allege that 18 defendants engaged in “massive voter fraud” by placing non-residents on the voter checklist. Bucknam told True North this week that one defendant, Robert Flanagan III, “voted in Connecticut and in Victory.”
Richardson says it’s too early to reach that conclusion: “One of the Flanagans may have voted in both places, but we’re not sure yet.”
Carol Easter, the sitting clerk-treasurer, along with husband Lionel Easter, the Selectboard candidate, are two of the 18 defendants named in Tracey Martel v. Town of Victory. Some defendants reside in Victory, while others live in Granby, Connecticut; Salem, Connecticut; St. Johnsbury, Vermont; Montpelier, Vermont; and Burlington, Vermont.
A new hearing is scheduled to take place in June at the Guildhall court.
“At that time we’ll present evidence that some of the defendants are not residents. A couple we have been unable to locate; we’re trying to get them served,” Bucknam said.
Meanwhile, Bucknam sent a letter to Condos requesting that he apologize and correct the record. He hasn’t yet, she said. “The secretary has refused to apologize; he said he’s not going to do it.”
Lou Varricchio is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.