By Kevin Joseph Ryan
On Tuesday this week, September 25, a letter arrived in the Offices of the Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos from the Mitt Romney Campaign. They weren’t happy. It seems that Condos’ staff did not comply with the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voter Act, which requires that all ballots for military personnel be sent out 45 days before an election to insure the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have enough time to make a correct choice and get their ballots back to Vermont in time to be counted as a valid vote. Mitt Romney’s folks were looking out for the troops.
As Ryan Williams, Romney National Campaign spokesperson put it, “Its a matter of principle…even if its only one vote.” The Romney Camp put their top veterans man on the job, Anthony Principi, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs for the Bush Administration, from whom the letter was sent. Principi pointed out that Condos had failed to get the foreign ballots out on time and this lack of action “…may deprive service members of their fundamental right to vote.”
TNR knew that if Condos’ office had indeed failed the Vermont-based military personnel, Jack Lindley, Chairman of the Vermont Republican Party would be on top of that story. Lindley did not disappoint. “Condos does not want people to vote or candidates to run. He‘s made that very clear,” Lindley told TNR. “And, he doesn’t want to follow the law.” When asked what he meant by that, Lindley continued, “Well, look at what he’s doing here. His dismissal of the complaint is that its politically motivated.” It was pointed out to Lindley that in fact Condos’ office had gotten all ballots out by September 24, the Monday following the prior Friday deadline and most had gone out on time, Lindley noted. “He got it mostly right? Isn’t that like being a little bit pregnant?”
Lindley pointed out, “When we contacted Condos about this, he told us there were about 200 ballot requests, and we asked for the list. He refused to give it to us. Now, it turns out there were like 800. What does that say about him?” Lindley then referred TNR to Kory Langhoffer, General Counsel for Romney who had been working with the Secretary of State Elections Division on the issue. While Mr. Langhoffer offered no comment on what had occurred between Vermont’s Director of Elections Kathy Scheele and himself, he referred us to Mr. Williams in the Communications office, citing a strict campaign policy. Mr. Williams did explain that the Romney camp had been working with Condos’ office for several weeks and warned them this might happen. Williams also went on to confirm that in fact, Condos did decline to provide the list of potentially affected veterans.
There is a minimum of two sides to every story, and Secretary of State Jim Condos certainly had a different take. He pointed out that as it turned out, there were 834 requests for overseas military ballots from Vermont, and 788 went out as per the Federal deadline, while 46 such requests were sent out two days late. “That means that 94.5% went out on time. Remember, that’s [a grade of] an ‘A’”. Condos said. “We told them that our office had been delayed on this issue due to the recount in the Progressive Party Governor’s primary and some requests weren’t even received from the town clerks until Friday afternoon of the deadline.”
Condos told TNR that the Burlington Free Press had quoted him as calling the complaint letter a “show”, when, in fact, he had told them it was a “political stunt”. He stood by that position even Friday morning. “Why would this guy [Principi] put the letter on Romney letterhead?” Condos asked. “If they are so concerned with everyone’s vote being counted, why aren’t they doing something about the voter rolls in Florida being purged right before an election?” Condos did say they were “striving for 100%” when it came to compliance, but they felt they had done due diligence.
Another issue that Condos regarding the complaint letter, was that Principi had closed his letter by saying, “…please do not hesitate to contact me,” but had left no contact information. Williams of the Romney campaign countered this be saying that the Vermont Secretary’s office had ample contact information via other communications. When asked why the Romney representatives were refused the list of names, and why the Romney camp had been told there were 271 ballot requests instead of the actual 834, Condos told TNR that “The 271 was a preliminary number and I had to check with the Office of Attorney General Bill Sorrell to make sure the document was public information before we released it.” True North had no trouble obtaining that list.
When it is all said and done, all the overseas ballots have gone out, a small number went out late. Vermont did not comply with the federal law and Michigan, Georgia and California have been sued by the U.S Department of Justice this year for failing in the same way Vermont did. The Vermont Republican Party and the Mitt Romney Campaign find Condos shortcoming unacceptable and the Vermont Secretary of State says his office did remarkably well, considering what they had to handle. While it is critical that every single voter be counted in the upcoming election as carefully as possible, especially the fighting men overseas, mistakes are bound to be made somewhere. The question remains, is 94% good enough?
We’ll report, the people of Vermont will decide…that sounds vaguely familiar.