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Friday, August 14, 2020

Spike in Defective Ballots 'Concerning,' Secretary of State Says

Posted By on Fri, Aug 14, 2020 at 10:06 PM

An absentee ballot envelope explicitly instructs voters to mail all ballots back. Many voters didn't. - EVA SOLLBERGER ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Eva Sollberger ©️ Seven Days
  • An absentee ballot envelope explicitly instructs voters to mail all ballots back. Many voters didn't.
The number of Vermonters voting by mail soared to record levels during this week’s primary.

So did the number of people who completely botched it.

Of the approximately 174,000 people who cast ballots in the August 11 primary, preliminary figures suggest that more than 6,000 screwed up the process badly enough that their votes weren't counted.

“It’s a concern that we had 6,000 votes that were not counted for one reason or another,” Secretary of State Jim Condos said Friday. “It would be wrong if I just sat back and said, 'That’s acceptable.'”

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Weinberger Unswayed by New CityPlace Burlington Partnership

Posted By on Fri, Aug 14, 2020 at 6:32 PM

Don Sinex - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Matthew Thorsen ©️ Seven Days
  • Don Sinex
The City of Burlington continues to have "deep and legitimate concerns" about the downtown CityPlace Burlington site, despite developer Don Sinex's assurances that a new partnership will help get the project done.

Sinex announced, in a Burlington Free Press story posted online Friday morning, that he has "a binding agreement" to buy out the majority partners on the project, Brookfield Asset Management. The deal should be finalized within 30 days, subject to "normal closing conditions," Sinex told the paper.

In Brookfield's place, Sinex said he has formed a new partnership with three local businessmen: Scott Ireland of SD Ireland, Dave Farrington of Farrington Construction and Al Senecal of Omega Electric Construction. None of the partners, nor Sinex, immediately responded to requests for comment.

Yet the announcement drew a sharp rebuke from Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, who said in a statement Friday afternoon that Sinex and his firm, Devonwood Investors, have not provided the city "the basic project information that any financial partner would require when contemplating a new agreement."

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Klar Endorses Scott, Opts Out of Independent Run for Governor

Posted By on Fri, Aug 14, 2020 at 5:08 PM

John Klar - COURTESY IMAGE
  • Courtesy Image
  • John Klar
Days after losing Vermont's Republican gubernatorial primary, Brookfield attorney and farmer John Klar announced Friday that he would withdraw as an independent candidate for the same office. And in an interview with Seven Days, Klar said he would endorse his erstwhile rival, Republican Gov. Phil Scott — albeit without much enthusiasm.

"Gee, I don't know. I don't know what to tell you," he said when asked whether such an endorsement was in the offing. "I support all Republicans in the 2020 election, and that includes Phil Scott." He added, "I don't always endorse all his policies. You can say that. But I do endorse him as our candidate. I do."

Less than a week before the primary, Klar filed as an independent candidate for governor. He told Seven Days earlier this week he had not decided whether he would actually pursue such a bid but wanted to keep the option open should he lose the primary. Candidates have up to 10 days afterward to withdraw.

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Chittenden County Senate Candidate Files for a Recount

Posted By on Fri, Aug 14, 2020 at 4:55 PM

June Heston with her son, Keegan - COURTESY OF JUNE HESTON
  • Courtesy of June Heston
  • June Heston with her son, Keegan
A Chittenden County Senate candidate has filed for a recount after coming 46 votes shy of winning a Democratic nomination for one of the district's six seats.

June Heston, a nonprofit consultant from Richmond in her first-ever political race, told Seven Days she filed her request with the Chittenden Superior Court on Friday afternoon.

"This is the first time that we've had such a large number of mail-in ballots," Heston said in a phone interview, referring to the record number of absentee votes sent in for Tuesday’s primary election. "I feel that I owe it to my supporters — with such a tight margin — to ensure that we are being responsible and following through with the democratic process."

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Scott Allows Municipalities to Limit Party Sizes, Alcohol Sales

Posted By on Fri, Aug 14, 2020 at 4:30 PM

Gov. Phil Scott at an earlier press conference - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur ©️ Seven Days
  • Gov. Phil Scott at an earlier press conference
Cities and towns in Vermont concerned about returning college students bringing and spreading the coronavirus can clamp down on parties and impose curfews on bars and clubs if necessary, Gov. Phil Scott said on Friday.

Scott issued an executive order clarifying that any local government — from college-rich Burlington to tiny hamlets with a single bar — has the power to issue such restrictions under the new order.

Evidence from other parts of the country suggests that “uncontrolled parties and crowded bars and clubs are a big part of the problem" in spreading the virus, Scott said.

“I believe giving our towns, especially the college towns, some additional mitigation measures to work with is the right thing to do,” Scott said.

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Quiros Pleads Guilty in Massive EB-5 Fraud

Posted By on Fri, Aug 14, 2020 at 2:03 PM

Ariel Quiros (left) with his former lawyer, Seth Levine, after a court hearing last year - PAUL HEINTZ ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Paul Heintz ©️ Seven Days
  • Ariel Quiros (left) with his former lawyer, Seth Levine, after a court hearing last year
The Florida businessman accused of masterminding what may have been the largest financial fraud in Vermont history pleaded guilty on Friday in exchange for assurances that he will serve no more than eight years in prison.

Ariel Quiros, 64, the former owner of Jay Peak and Burke Mountain ski resorts, appeared at a virtual hearing in federal court in Burlington on Friday morning and admitted to conspiring to commit wire fraud, laundering money and making false statements. The charges stem from a massive embezzlement scheme in the Northeast Kingdom involving the EB-5 program, which offers foreign investors U.S. residency in exchange for $500,000 investments in approved job-creating businesses.

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Thursday, August 13, 2020

Dems Rally Around Primary Winners, Criticize Scott

Posted By on Thu, Aug 13, 2020 at 7:19 PM

Molly Gray at Thursday's press conference - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Molly Gray at Thursday's press conference
Democratic primary candidates engaged in a session of verbal back-patting on Thursday as they strove to exit a challenging campaign cycle with a cohesive front.

While the theme of the Vermont Democratic Party's postprimary press conference was "unity," the Dems made clear that their olive branch would not be extended to one person in particular: Gov. Phil Scott.

"Our current governor may be a nice guy," said Brenda Siegel, who finished third in the lieutenant governor primary. "But his veto pen is not. He has vetoed bill after bill and issue after issue that would have helped my family and families all across Vermont."

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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Vermonters Smash Primary Turnout Record

Posted By on Wed, Aug 12, 2020 at 6:38 PM

Voting at Edmunds Elementary School in Burlington - JAMES BUCK ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • James Buck ©️ Seven Days
  • Voting at Edmunds Elementary School in Burlington
Global pandemic be damned: Vermonters on Tuesday smashed their previous state primary voting record — and it wasn't even close.

Unofficial results from the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office show that 170,586 people voted in the primary election, a 39 percent higher turnout than the recent primary record of 122,437 set in 2000.

The remarkable showing suggests that the circumstances surrounding this election cycle — an unprecedented health and economic crisis, nationwide protests for criminal justice reforms, and a presidential race featuring one of the most polarizing figures in modern history — have gotten the attention of the electorate.

Another possible explanation: It was easier to vote.

“The easier you make it for people to participate, the more participation you have,” explained Deb Markowitz, who was Vermont’s secretary of state from 1999 to 2010.

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'Phenomenal Uncertainty' Clouds Vermont's Fiscal Outlook, State Economists Say

Posted By on Wed, Aug 12, 2020 at 6:37 PM

Administration economist Jeff Carr, left, and legislative economist Tom Kavet - FILE: TAYLOR DOBBS ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Taylor Dobbs ©️ Seven Days
  • Administration economist Jeff Carr, left, and legislative economist Tom Kavet
Vermont's fiscal future looks brighter than it did at the height of the coronavirus pandemic this spring, the state's economists told lawmakers on Wednesday, but the outlook remains mighty murky.

"I don't think there's ever been a forecast with greater uncertainty than we have right now," the legislature's chief economist, Tom Kavet, said Wednesday morning during a meeting of the Joint Fiscal Committee.

"We're really in a situation that's extremely fluid," echoed Jeff Carr, the administration's chief economist, during an afternoon meeting of the state's Emergency Board. "Things are changing weekly, even daily."

Kavet and Carr were making the rounds Wednesday after settling on a consensus revenue forecast for the current and coming fiscal years. Their latest estimates, which were formally adopted by the Emergency Board, will guide legislators as they reconvene this month for an unusual late-summer session to complete the state's 2021 budget.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Zuckerman to Face Scott in Governor's Race, Gray Upsets Ashe for LG

Posted By and on Tue, Aug 11, 2020 at 9:48 PM

Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman declaring victory Tuesday night at his Hinesburg farm - JAMES BUCK ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • James Buck ©️ Seven Days
  • Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman declaring victory Tuesday night at his Hinesburg farm
Updated Wednesday, August 12, at 2:49 a.m.

Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a veteran Progressive politician, claimed Vermont’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination on Tuesday, besting former education secretary Rebecca Holcombe. In this fall’s general election, he’ll take on two-term Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who easily outdistanced conservative challenger John Klar and three others to win the GOP nomination.

In the upset of the evening, first-time candidate Molly Gray defeated Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden), activist Brenda Siegel and Sen. Debbie Ingram (D-Chittenden) to win the Democratic nomination for the open lieutenant governor’s seat. Scott Milne, a former GOP nominee for governor and the U.S. Senate, prevailed over Meg Hansen and three others for the Republican nomination for LG.

Though the election was conducted in the middle of a global pandemic, Vermont appeared to have “shattered” the previous record for voter turnout in a state primary, the Secretary of State’s Office wrote Tuesday night on Twitter. Even before Election Day, more than 110,000 people had cast their vote — taking advantage of a new system that encouraged Vermonters to request absentee ballots. Early results suggested that more than 160,000 people voted this time around, well more than the recent record of 122,437 set in the 2000 primary.

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