Not so Fast! The Democrats’ Attorney General Primary Isn’t Over Yet, Folks

by Kevin Joseph Ryan

We may not know the ultimate victor in the Vermont Attorney General’s race for quite some time to come, given the razor thin victory of Bill Sorrell.

Initially, It appears the winner has been determined in the hotly contested Vermont Attorney General’s primary race for the Democratic ticket….but just barely. Bill Sorrell, the incumbent Vermont AG, barely edged out Chittenden County Prosecutor Thomas “TJ” Donovan, with a preliminary vote total of 20,213 (51%) for Sorrell to 19,631 (49%) at 10 PM ,with 92 % of statewide precincts reporting at press time.

Given the slim margin of victory and the frequently volatile campaign fought between the two Democrat candidates, it appears likely that a recount will take place in the near future. Vermont statutes (Title 17, sect. 2601) allows for a recount if the total vote tally is less than 2% in a statewide race. Such as recount must be requested by one or more of the losing candidates. As T.J.. Donovan himself said Tuesday night, “This ain’t over.”

While Sorrell has not faced a strong general election challenger in the seven races he has faced in his 15 years, this year posed the very unusual circumstance of a challenger from within his own party in T.J. Donovan, who has waged an aggressive campaign for the nomination slot. It would seem unlikely that with the vote totals so close that Donovan would concede so easily. In the home town of both candidates, Burlington, Donovan easily outmatched Sorrell, 2,407 to 1,937, winning with a 55% take.

When contacted by TNR, the Republican candidate for the Attorney General’s office, Jack McMullen offered congratulations to Sorrell and noted, “Now that the two choices in this campaign are set, I will begin to make a forceful and fact driven case make a case about why I am the best choice to succeed Bill Sorrell.” McMullen received over 91% of the total in the uncontested Republican primary.

While most other statewide races in Vermont this primary were quiet, one Republican race does stand out, that for the nomination for United States Senate Candidate, to face off on November 6th against current sitting Senator Bernie Sanders. In that race, John MacGovern took 76% of the vote, or 5,848 votes to Brooke Paige with 1,933 (25%), offering MacGovern a decisive victory.

While the U.S. Senate Republican primary race was decisive, the Democrat contest for AG remains with a difference of less than 500 votes. While no one has alleged deliberate voter fraud by any candidate in any primary race, the small scale of difference does lend itself to the case for requiring voter identification be produced at the poles, should any campaign be tempted toward any funny business in Vermont. Races in Vermont frequently have slim margins, most significantly the 2010 Governor’s race, where Peter Shumlin won victory over Republican Brian Dubie by 4,000 votes out of over 220,000 cast.

A future Attorney General may yet have to sort out such a case.