Bart Newhouse may have come up just short in his write-in bid for the Stowe Selectboard, but he sure didn’t lose to Bart Simpson — or Mickey Mouse or Bernie Sanders, or any of the typical throwaway votes people sometimes offer on their ballots.
At least in Stowe, it was clear who was second place; due to pandemic election guidelines, other towns this year simply didn’t list the write-in vote recipients if they didn’t beat someone actually on the ballot.
In Stowe, Newhouse garnered all but nine of the write-in votes for the board’s open two-year seat, coming up short of Jo Sabel Courtney by a tally of 716-796. A total of 96 Stowe voters simply didn’t vote for that one at all.
According to Stowe town clerk Lisa Walker, counting write-in votes requires gathering every ballot by hand and tallying up each person’s vote totals. So, the secretary of state’s elections division told town clerks they didn’t have to count individual write-in votes if they didn’t win the contest.
However, Walker said, it was pretty clear in Stowe that Newhouse was running a vigorous campaign. Both he and Courtney had campaign signs all around town and both advertised multiple weeks in the Stowe Reporter.
“We were instructed that we didn’t have to count write-ins, but we decided to for the two-year seat,” Walker said.
Next door, in Morristown, there was also a write-in campaign by artist Jess Graham, who announced in mid-February she was taking on unopposed incumbent Brian Kellogg. But the write-in total in that race wasn’t close enough — 947 for Kellogg and 377 for all of the write-ins combined — to convince town clerk Sara Haskins and her crew to gather all of the paper ballots and ascertain who received write-ins.
“We discussed it earlier as the BCA,” Haskins said, referring to the town board of civil authority, which hammers out voting processes for towns. “And we were leaning toward it, but decided not to.”
The main reason for foregoing a hand count for write-in was the robust number of early ballot returns in Morristown.
“We got a huge whack of them in the first week of voting, before she declared she was running,” Haskins said.
Newhouse didn’t get his election paperwork into the town clerk’s office by the deadline — he didn’t know former board member Morgan Nichols vacating her seat until it was too late.
But, his write-in campaign started early and attracted early donations, including from Stowe public officials, according to campaign finance figures from the secretary of state’s office.
State Rep. Heidi Scheuermann donated $600 from her campaign war chest; schoolboard member Tiffany Donza — who had complained about behind-the-scene political machinations for Newhouse not knowing Nichols was stepping aside — chipped in $300.
Even selectboard member Willie Noyes tipped his hat as to his favored candidate, donating $300 to Newhouse’s campaign.
All told, Newhouse raised $3,900 and spent $7,500 on his month-long campaign.
Courtney, who still had $7,900 in her campaign coffers left over from her losing 2020 legislative bid, spent $2,700 on her campaign.