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New High Bailiff Plans to Build on Policing Conversation

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Asa Skinder will likely be Vermont’s youngest elected state or county official when he is sworn in Feb. 1 as Washington County’s new high bailiff.

Skinder, who will have just turned 20 by the time he is sworn in, is one of at least three candidates who won the antiquated and seldom-needed position in hopes of stimulating a broader discussion of police practices. Two of those new high bailiffs, former State’s Attorney Robert Sand in Windsor and Dave Silberman in Addison, have been clear in challenging the strict statutory interpretation that the position exists only for the purpose of removing a sheriff who has committed a crime. They see the job description, which also includes running the department until the governor appoints a new sheriff, as possibly having more oversight of the sheriff’s office. (A fourth kindred candidate, Simon Rosenbaum, lost his race in Lamoille.)


Asa Skinder stands near the Washington County Sheriff’s Department. Photo by Tom Brown.

Skinder doesn’t quite go that far but believes the position can serve as a platform to call attention to the police killings of Blacks that drew thousands to the streets in protest around the country last summer.

“With the official duties I probably won’t have to do anything, but I think already just by running and talking about the issues of policing it’s brought a few more conversations to the table,” he said. “More people are thinking about policing in general and this is one more way to bring it to the forefront of people’s minds and not just take for granted that a world where everything is policed is the only way to go.”

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Skinder said he is unaware of any problems with Washington County Sheriff Sam Hill and believes the department is doing a “good and respectable job.”

Skinder defeated the incumbent high bailiff Marc Poulin, 17,560–13,318, on Election Day. That’s a lot of votes for a teenager who only made the general election ballot by mounting a last-minute write-in campaign in the August primary.

“I knew Washington County goes Democrat but I didn’t have any really good way to know that I would win just because of that,” he said. “It’s a super feeling to win 17,000 votes after feeling really good about getting 100 in the primary.”  

While it may have been his first election, it might not be the last for the Middlebury College sophomore. Skinder plans to return to school in the spring, after a COVID-19 hiatus, to pursue environmental studies and political science.

Turnout Sets Record

In all, 5,216 Montpelier residents voted by mail, by early ballot, or in-person on Election Day, according to City Clerk John Odum. That represents a turnout of 76.2 percent. A total of 4,475 people voted by mail or early, that’s 85.8 percent of the ballots cast.

In other races, maybe it was a referendum on his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Montpelier voters backed Gov. Phil Scott for the first time in the Republican’s three gubernatorial victories.

Scott received 2,723 votes to 2,264 for Progressive/Democrat Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. The 52 percent to 44 percent margin was the first time Montpelier backed Scott over his Democratic challenger. In Scott’s first race in 2016, Democrat Sue Minter defeated Scott in Montpelier 3,172–1,515. In 2018, Democrat Christine Hallquist topped Scott 2,758–1,596.

The virus had a powerful impact on the way Montpelier voters cast their ballots as 4,133 voted early, by mail, dropbox, or early in-person methods, and only 1,023 went to the polls on Election Day. These results are unofficial but the total of 5,156 is certain to be a record turnout in the city.

Scott’s chosen running mate Scott Milne did not pick up the governor’s coat tails, however, as Democrat Molly Gray crushed the Pomfret businessman 3,589–1,157 in the race for lieutenant governor.

Incumbents coasted to victory in races for state representative and state senator. Mary Hooper and Warren Kitzmiller will again represent Montpelier in the House, while Sens. Ann Cummings, Andrew Perchilik, and Anthony Pollina were reelected to the Senate.

At the top of the ballot, former Vice President Joe Biden trounced President Donald Trump 4,576–468 among city voters.

Tom Brown is contributing editor of The Bridge. ..... You can contact him at tom@montpelierbridge.com