Recount Confirms Dieng Will Keep Seat on Burlington City Council | Off Message

Recount Confirms Dieng Will Keep Seat on Burlington City Council


Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7) - COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7)
Incumbent Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7) will retain his seat on the Burlington City Council after a recount at City Hall on Monday confirmed his two-vote win over challenger Alec Stith, a Democrat.

The daylong process ended with the same vote count as on Town Meeting Day: Dieng with 795 votes, Stith with 793 and Olivia Taylor, a Progressive-endorsed independent, with 89.

As soon as the election was certified, Dieng clapped and threw up two “V” signs for victory. Stith rushed over and shook his opponent’s hand.

“I’m highly confident about the election system we have in Burlington,” Dieng told a scrum of reporters after the vote, adding that he felt encouraged even with such a narrow margin.

“I’m a proud city councilor,” he said. “I’m someone who’s really loved in the New North End.”

The race for Ward 7 was the closest city council race in recent memory — and the first council recount since November 2010, when Ward 3 Prog Vince Brennan defeated Democrat Bob Bolyard by 10 votes.

The outcome is not expected to have much effect on the council’s partisan makeup. The Progressive caucus maintained its six-person plurality after Town Meeting Day elections last week, and Dieng — a true independent — does not reliably side with the Progs to give the party a decisive seventh vote to pass resolutions.
Monday’s recount was conducted in two parts: first by a group of eight appointed election officials and then by the Board of Civil Authority, which consists of Mayor Miro Weinberger and the 12 city councilors. Dieng recused himself from the process. Each candidate was allowed four observers to watch the proceedings throughout the day.

The hand-count began just after 10 a.m. Monday. Election officials first sorted the ballots into groups of 50, then passed them to a “tallying table” where they were separated into piles for each candidate. Officials at a “totaling table” double-checked one another's work before manually adding up the totals on a provided calculator.

Finally, the ballots were run through an electronic tabulator, which confirmed the hand count: 795 votes for Dieng and 792 for Stith.

Stith’s 793rd vote came courtesy of the Board of Civil Authority, which awarded one of six “questionable” ballots to the candidate after a brief review. Five of the ballots were clear "overvotes," where the voter incorrectly chose two candidates. On the other ballot, the voter filled in the oval next to Stith’s name, but had also marked the other candidates’ ovals with small Xs.
A "questionable" ballot - COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • A "questionable" ballot
Councilor Perri Freeman (P-Central District) flagged the ballot for further discussion, saying it was likely meant for Stith. Councilor Joan Shannon (D-South District) agreed, saying that the Xs were drawn lightly, whereas there was “clear determination to fill in the oval for Stith.” The board voted unanimously to give Stith the vote.

While Dieng was crowned winner, the race for Ward 7 may continue if Stith decides to challenge the outcome in court.
At issue are seven ballots that were marked as “defective” on Town Meeting Day, and were not opened nor counted on Election Night or during the recount. All seven were absentee ballots, and, according to Ward 7 election officer Jeff Comstock, were deemed defective because the voter didn’t sign the envelope or placed the ballot in the wrong envelope.

City Attorney Dan Richardson said the city clerk’s office attempted to contact voters who submitted a questionable ballots to give them a chance to “cure” it, but some didn’t respond. Those ballots were placed in a sealed envelope and set aside.

Ed Adrian, an attorney representing Stith, urged the Board of Civil Authority on Monday to count the ballots. “It is the right thing to do in order to ensure that every vote counts and ensure the integrity of the legal process,” he wrote in a memo to city attorneys.
Alec Stith (far right) watches the recount - COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Alec Stith (far right) watches the recount
John Franco, Dieng’s attorney, disagreed and pointed to a state law that prohibits correcting defective ballots after the polls close. Richardson agreed with Franco’s analysis, and advised the board on Monday to not consider those ballots in the recount.

“The idea of a recount is effectively to cure issues that were raised with the counting,” Richardson said. “It's not intended to cure all potential issues that may have arisen around the original election.”

Stith has five days to appeal the result to Chittenden Superior Court. He said he plans to speak with his campaign advisers and family before making a decision.

Meantime, Dieng said he’s proud of his win because, unlike Stith, he didn’t have the backing of a major political party or endorsements from unions. Going forward, Dieng said the council needs to resolve its partisan divide — perhaps by choosing a political independent such as himself to serve as council president. Current Council President Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) did not run for reelection.

“I am highly considering it,” Dieng said of running for the job, which entails setting council agendas and moderating meetings.

Correction, March 8, 2022: An earlier version of this story misstated the date of the last city council race recount.