Elaine Haney Sopchak will officially join the Essex Selectboard after Saturday’s recount of the race for a three-year seat shows she won by 18 votes.
Requested by candidate Mona Sheppard, the recount confirms Town Meeting Day results despite finding six missed votes from the preliminary count. The extra ballots split support between Sopchak and Sheppard to maintain the initial outcome.
The hand-counted ballots now show Sopchak earned 934 votes to Sheppard’s 916, while third-place finisher Timothy Farr kept his total of 126.
Six members of the Essex Board of Civil Authority, comprised of selectboard members and justices of the peace, oversaw the proceedings: Paul Dame, Linda Myers, Linda Costello, Deb Billado, Diane Clemens and chairwoman Dawn Hill-Fleury.
They broke into pairs and thumbed through nearly 2,000 ballots rolled out from a vault at the town offices, one counter reading out the name while the other wrote down the result. A dozen attendees, meanwhile, including some village trustees, watched the two-hour event, sitting silent as the ballots were read.
Village results matched the original total and heavily favored Sopchak, 609 to 186. Town ballots, counted twice after a discrepancy in the first attempt, gave Sheppard a similar boost: 730 to 325.
The breakdown of votes by municipality showed strong support for Sheppard from town residents in a performance similar to her bid for the selectboard last year. Then, she earned more votes than the two incumbents who retained their seats thanks to higher support from village voters.
But Sheppard’s bid eventually fell short. After the final tallies were read, the two challengers shook hands.
“As close as it was, we needed to do this,” Sheppard said.
“I think you’re right,” Sopchak responded. “Absolutely.”
Vermont law says recounts in local elections can only be requested by candidates who lost by less than 5 percent of the overall ballots cast, divided by the number of candidates (three in this case).
Hill-Fleury, who’s been a justice of the peace for 40 years and chairwoman of the BCA for the last 20, said this was the first recount she’s seen in an Essex local election.
Campaign season isn’t over for Sopchak, who’s also running for re-election on the board of trustees in next month’s election. It will likely be a much easier task, however, since she and fellow incumbent Andrew Brown are both unopposed.
Editor’s note: This story will be updated.