It isn’t every day that more than 5,000 of Montpelier’s ballots are spread out on tables 22 months after an election and recounted by citizens (rather than city officials). But it happened at city hall last week, apparently part of a nationwide attempt to protest the results of the 2020 presidential election and possibly impede the upcoming November vote.
Brian Wheel, of Williston, requested to inspect the ballots from the 2020 general election just days before the city’s obligation to keep them expired. The unofficial vote recount could not change the outcome of an election in which Joe Biden earned 88% of the votes in Montpelier. Wheel’s request coincided with a flood of similar requests across the country.
Wheel unsuccessfully ran for justice of the peace as a Republican in Williston in 2020, garnereing less than 1% of the vote. He is also a gun rights advocate and a self-described “election integrity advocate” who authored a commentary for the Vermont Daily Chronicle about his experience finding that poll workers accidentally mixed him up with his uncle in the Williston primary election in August 2022.
Ballot Inspection Requests Spike Nationwide
Requests to inspect ballots and view voting machine data from the 2020 presidential election have spiked nationwide, and last week, Wheel and a group of volunteers he recruited inspected all 5,216 of Montpelier’s 2020 ballots, conducting their own, unofficial, recount by hand.
Wheel’s request fits a broader pattern across the nation, with what appears to be “a coordinated campaign of requests for 2020 voting records, in some cases paralyzing preparations for the fall election season,” according to the Washington Post.
“Those [records requests] — to me — are spurred by the still general lingering distrust of the 2020 election caused by the lies told about the election results, which … we haven’t seen go away since then,” said Will Senning, director of elections for the Vermont Secretary of State. Senning said there have been other similar records requests in Vermont, plus a spate of requests to view voting machine data, all in the past several weeks.
On Monday, Sept. 13, a reporter showed up at the Memorial Room in Montpelier City Hall to find a busy group of people surrounding ballots spread across several tables. None of the approximately eight people in the room would give the reporter their name or talk to the reporter about why they were recounting votes from an election that concluded nearly two years ago. Wheel appeared to be the spokesperson for the group and declined multiple requests for an interview.
Vermont elections law allows for an official recount in presidential elections for up to 10 days after the polls close, so why did Wheel’s request come nearly 22 months after the fact? According to City Clerk John Odum, the city is required to hold onto ballots for 22 months before disposing of them. The retention period for the 2020 general election expired on Sept. 3, 2022. A public records request from Wheel came about a week before that date.
MyPillow CEO Encourages Cast Vote Records Requests
Also according to the Washington Post, “The latest flood of requests began immediately after MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a prominent Trump ally, exhorted his followers at a mid-August gathering in Springfield, Missouri., to obtain copies of what’s known as ‘cast vote records’ from every election office in the country.”
Senning confirmed that his colleagues across the country have been inundated with cast vote records requests, and in Vermont, there have been “10 to 20” such requests. “The tabulators we’ve used don’t produce the cast vote record — it’s something produced by the more modern machines, not the old optical scanners,” Senning said.
Asked why there has been an uptick in this kind of request, Senning responded “Speculation, which I don’t like to do, is [it’s] a mixture of people looking simply to gum up the works for lack of a better term, to disrupt the preparation for the upcoming elections. … Less speculative: people who are unfortunately and sadly convinced there was something wrong with the 2020 results and think they can prove it via this data, which is a fool’s errand,” he said. “The suggestion is removed from reality entirely – it just truly is.”
Because Wheel’s Montpelier recount was not official, it was considered a public records request to inspect the ballots. The Bridge was not able to confirm what Wheel found with his hand recount, other than there may have been a discrepancy of 14 votes, “well within the margin of error” when comparing machine versus hand counts, Odum said.
With no more active requests to view the ballots, Odum said he will now recycle them.
The Bridge reached out to Wheel in person, by phone, and through a mutual colleague for an interview, but Wheel did not respond.