Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos is responding to accusations that he disparaged Victory residents and tainted an ongoing judicial proceeding in the town, saying his comments have been misunderstood.
In an May 19 published interview with True North Reports, St. Johnsbury-based attorney Deborah Bucknam said comments Condos made to Seven Days in April disparaged residents of the town of Victory, interfered with an ongoing court case and displayed ignorance of possible voter fraud in the town.
“(His commenting) violates the separation of powers doctrine. … (Members of) the executive branch don’t comment on pending legal cases — they just don’t do it,” Bucknam told True North Reports in the interview.
Bucknam added that she contacted Condos to get an apology, but received none.
Last week Condos told True North that although he did not apologize, he was aware of Bucknam’s concerns and replied to her in a letter dated May 5:
“First, in no way were my comments in the (Seven Days) article intended to ‘interfere with’ or ‘taint’ the ongoing judicial proceeding. In my role as the chief elections officer for the State of Vermont, I was asked questions by a reporter about the long history of disputes in Victory and I provided general answers to his questions.”
According to Bucknam, Condos pre-judged the outcome of an ongoing judicial proceeding during his interview with the alternative weekly paper. “We have not seen any true voter fraud (in Victory),” Condos told Seven Days.
Moreover, Bucknam claims the Victory Board of Civil Authority has since used the secretary’s comments as evidence that the voter checklist in the town of Victory does not need to be changed, and that her client is going to lose the case.
In a March 21 complaint, Bucknam and client Tracey Martel alleged 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.”
Condos denies that his comments to Seven Days have tainted the legal proceeding.
“As I stated in my response to attorney Bucknam, while I made general observations about the voter registration laws and the allegation in the case, I certainly did not come to any conclusion about the eligibility of any of the individual named defendants,” he told True North.
“We did use her complaint to check the status of voter registration within Vermont for specific individuals named. … We routinely send out to all town clerks a detailed communication regarding voter checklist maintenance – and this was just sent out in the last month,” Condos added.
The secretary of state said he is aware of the basic details of the case, “having received a copy of Attorney Bucknam’s complaint.” Moreover, he said his elections director attended the first hearing in the case and that other elections staff have “been in communication with officials in the town of Victory for many months providing guidance on the election law.”
He also said his comments to Seven Days have been misunderstood. “My comment … is simply a statement that no voter fraud has been proven and draws no conclusions about any of the specific allegations in your complaint,” Condos wrote to Bucknam. “Until and unless it is proven by … lawsuit that any individuals are improperly registered in Victory, no voter fraud has taken place.”
Bucknam told True North Reports it’s inappropriate for a state official to conjecture about the outcome of the case playing out in Essex County Superior Court. Her lawsuit on behalf of her client maintains that 18 defendants have engaged in “massive voter fraud,” and that at least one one defendant voted in Connecticut and in Victory.
She also criticized Condos for saying the Victory situation was akin to “the Hatfields and McCoys going at it” — an apparent reference to gun-toting rural families feuding in the West Virginia–Kentucky area in the late 1800s.
Condos told True North Reports that his mention of the feuding families was about “dispute resolution and irreconcilable differences,” and was not intended to disparage either the plaintiff or the defendants. He stressed that he never called Bucknam’s client “a hillbilly.”
In his letter to Bucknam he referenced his own dealings with residents of the town of Victory.
“My office has dealt extensively with Victory. Frankly, it does upset me that a small town like Victory can’t seem to work out their differences through the democratic process. I certainly am not prejudging the outcome of this case and hope for the sake of all involved that it is settled quickly and clearly on the merits and that the town can then begin the healing process,” he wrote.
The case, Tracey Martel v. Town of Victory et al, is awaiting a new hearing in June at Essex County Superior Court in Guildhall.
Lou Varricchio is a freelance reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at email@example.com.