Gail Speno, a loyal supporter of Bill Sorrell, will be headed to the Brattleboro polls on Aug. 28 to cast a vote for the incumbent attorney general.
So she was surprised to learn recently that someone had asked the local town clerk to send her and her husband, Francis, an absentee ballot for the Democratic primary.
Even more surprising, Speno said Sunday, is that the request came from the campaign of TJ Donovan.
“I got a call from (Brattleboro Town Clerk) Annette Cappy two weeks ago, and she said she had received an email from ‘Ward’ at the Donovan campaign and that our name was on it, along with 22 other names, requesting that absentee ballots be mailed to us,” Speno recalled.
Speno said Cappy knows she and her husband generally show up in person on Election Day, “so she was calling to confirm that we in fact wanted them sent.”
“I said, ‘my god no.’ And they I said, ‘who is this guy?’” Speno said.
Donovan campaign manager Ryan Emerson has since apologized to Speno for what he said was a “mistake.”
“We have hundreds of volunteers working for us and either when they’re knocking on doors or making phone calls, when we identify a confirmed Donovan supporter, we ask them if they’d like to vote early,” Emerson says.
If they do, Emerson says, then the volunteer fills out an absentee ballot request on their behalf and sends it to the voter’s local town clerk.
“In this instance, it seems like a mistake was made, and we apologize for it,” Emerson said Sunday.
Though Speno isn’t actively volunteering for Sorrell, she and her husband are friends with Sorrell’s campaign manager, Mike Pieciak, as well as his campaign treasurer, Kate O’Connor.
Speno said she worries the same mistake might have happened to other people, “and because they haven’t requested them they’re going to think it’s junk mail and they’re going to throw them away.”
Contacted at home Sunday, Secretary of State Jim Condos said he’s aware of the incident but couldn’t offer any further comment.
“We’re looking into it,” Condos said.
Emerson said that while he feels bad about what happened to the Spenos, the Donovan campaign stands firmly behind the practice of requesting absentee ballots on voters’ behalves.
“We’ve done tens of thousands of calls so far and processed hundreds of absentee ballot requests,” Emerson said. “There will be mistakes made along the way, and this was one of them.”
Pieciak said the Sorrell campaign has a different approach. In most instances, he said, the campaign sends the ballot-request forms directly to voters.
“That way they can request it themselves,” said Pieciak, who said the secretary of state’s office prefers that tactic. “It cuts down on confusion, and allows the town clerk to know with certainty that this person is in fact requesting a ballot.”
Emerson said Pieciak’s strategy is one of the reasons Sorrell is going to lose. Filling out absentee request forms for voters has long been the convention in political races, according to Emerson, who worked as regional field director for the Vermont Democratic Party in 2010 and as deputy field organizer for Shumlin for Governor in the 2010 primary.
“This is the exact scientific field program that virtually everyone I know of in the state of Vermontuses,” Emerson said. “You want to be aggressive on the early vote front, therefore we train all our volunteers to ask possible supporters if they want us to request absentee ballots on their behalf.”
Said Emerson: “We do not apologize for running an aggressive early vote program – it’s what’s going to win us this election.”