Politics

Sarah Copeland Hanzas ekes out narrow victory in Democratic secretary of state primary

Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, announces her candidacy for secretary of state in Montpelier on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Updated at 10:36 a.m.

In a nailbiter of a race, Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, a veteran lawmaker from Bradford, won the Democratic primary for Vermont secretary of state Tuesday.

With just one precinct left to report early Wednesday morning, Copeland Hanzas led her closest opponent, Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters, by just 1,283 votes out of 100,019 counted.

Copeland Hanzas had picked up 36% of the vote, Winters 34% and Montpelier City Clerk John Odum 14%. 

In a brief interview around 10 a.m. Wednesday, Copeland Hanzas said that she was “so excited” about her victory. 

“It has been a long three months, on top of a long three years of Covid legislating,” she said. “So it's nice to be over this first hurdle.” 

In a statement just after 10 a.m. Wednesday, Winters’ campaign announced that the candidate had conceded earlier that morning. Winters had called Copeland Hanzas to congratulate her, the campaign said, and the two had a “brief, but warm conversation.” 

“Of course I am disappointed in the outcome, but I feel incredibly grateful to my family, and to the team who have supported me throughout this process,” Winters said. “I’ve worked with Representative Copeland Hanzas in the legislature for years and I believe she is deeply committed to public service, as well as to many of the issues I am also passionate about.”

Odum said shortly before 11 p.m. Tuesday that he planned to call his opponents to concede.

Copeland Hanzas will likely face little opposition in the general election. Perennial Republican candidate H. Brooke Paige and Progressive Robert Millar ran unopposed for their party’s nominations. 

In February, Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos announced his retirement after 11 years in the position, setting the stage for a competitive Democratic primary.

The three-way race pitted Winters, who spent a quarter-century in the Secretary of State’s Office, against Copeland Hanzas, a former House majority leader and the chair of the House Committee on Government Operations, and Odum, a municipal official and former political blogger. 

Recent secretary of state races across the country have been high-profile affairs, as the administration of elections has drawn scrutiny amid voter fraud conspiracy theories. But in Vermont, the Democratic primary for the office, which will likely determine who will become the next secretary of state, was civil and low-key.

The three Democratic candidates were in agreement about the bulk of the issues facing the Secretary of State’s Office, which performs a range of functions including election administration, professional licensing and business registration. 

All three candidates supported expanding ballot access, implementing ranked-choice voting, allowing non-citizens and 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local races, and strengthening the state’s ethics commission. 

Copeland Hanzas, an 18-year veteran of the Vermont House, touted her experience as the chair of the government operations committee, whose responsibilities — including elections, public records and redistricting — align closely with the secretary of state’s. 

“Under my leadership in the House, I’ve prioritized election reforms that put civic engagement and voter accessibility at the forefront,” Copeland Hanzas said in a VTDigger-hosted debate in June, citing her work to implement universal mail-in voting during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

A former cafe owner, Copeland Hanzas boasted the endorsement of former Gov. Madeleine Kunin and a long list of Democratic lawmakers. 

Winters, who Condos publicly supported throughout the campaign and officially endorsed last month, presented himself as an experienced public servant and a continuation of the status quo.

“Right now, Vermont needs stability and continuity in the Secretary of State’s office,” Winters said in the VTDigger debate. “I’m the only candidate who can hit the ground running.”

Winters, who entered the race two days after Condos announced his retirement, had raised roughly $75,000 in donations during the campaign, according to an Aug. 1 campaign finance report. 

By that same date, Copeland Hanzas had raised about $51,000, and Odum about $17,000. 

Odum, who also describes himself as a “certified ethical hacker," proposed strengthening the state’s election cybersecurity and engaging in activism. Through its Office of Professional Regulation, he suggested, the secretary of state could encourage licensed professionals to undergo implicit bias training, or push for environmental initiatives.  

“It's been a great race. It's been a great experience,” Odum told VTDigger Tuesday night. “Whoever ends up on top tonight is going to make Vermont proud.”

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Peter D'Auria

About Peter

Peter D’Auria covers education for VTDigger. Prior to moving to Vermont, he worked for The Jersey Journal, The Chilkat Valley News and Willamette Week. He is originally from Portland, Oregon.

Email: [email protected]

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