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Friday, Jun 21, 2024

‘I wrote myself in’: Asa Skinder ’22.5 runs for high bailiff in Vermont’s Washington County

Asa Skinder ’22.5 is on some Vermonters’ ballots as the Democratic nominee for high bailiff of Washington County. The position, which has existed since Vermont’s statehood, is largely a ceremonial office unique to the state of Vermont.

Each of Vermont’s 14 counties has a high bailiff, whose job is to conduct oversight over the sheriff. The high bailiff’s only responsibility is the rare action of arresting or replacing the county sheriff.

Skinder, as a college student with no ties to law enforcement, believes he could fill this role in a way that his opponent simply cannot.

Skinder secured the Democratic nomination in August after receiving 100 write-in votes. What initially began as a spur-of-the-moment decision eventually evolved into a larger project to send a message on the current state of law enforcement and the conflicts of interest associated with it.

“I noticed there was nobody running on the Democratic ticket for high bailiff so I wrote myself in,” said Skinder. After doing more research, Skinder took more interest in the office in the context of recent national conversations regarding police and law enforcement. To make it on the general election ballot, Skinder reached out to people in his community and formed his message.

“It was a lot of talking to people I know — a lot of friends, family and informal campaigning,” Skinder said. On primary election day, Skinder took the day off from work and stood near polls, talking to people as they walked in. After persuading enough voters to write him in, he became the nominee. 

Should he be elected, Skinder doubts he’ll have much work to do. “High bailiffs rarely, if ever, do anything,” he commented. “It's really not uncommon for a high bailiff to do nothing for a decade or two.”

While rare, the high bailiff can exercise important responsibilities. In 2004, the Washington County Sheriff resigned in a plea deal after being tried for fraud. The county’s bailiff, Phillip Anthony, assumed the office until a replacement was named by then-Governor Jim Douglas ’72.

Washington County’s current high bailiff is Marc Poulin, who has been in office since 2012 and is a sheriff’s deputy. Skinder explained that it has become the norm for law enforcement officers to occupy the bailiff positions. 

For Skinder, having high bailiffs on the Sheriff Department’s payroll is, fundamentally, a conflict of interest. 

“Even though the position is mostly symbolic to me, it seems wrong that the person tasked with this minimal act of oversight, [as] a way the community holds a bit of power over law enforcement and local government, should be affiliated that way with their own department,” Skinder said. “A big part of my message is ending that conflict of interest.”

Skinder was largely driven by this year’s Black Lives Matter protests and emerging conversations around law enforcement.

“In the context of acts of police violence against African American people across the country and protesters in response to those killings, we need to look at the role of police more than ever right now,” he commented. “We’ve seen that [police] can’t really be held accountable to the people they're supposed to serve.”

Skinder argues that for any office overseeing law enforcement, the official needs to be “somebody who is willing to think critically about [police] and understands that the institutions of law enforcement are founded on centuries of racist policy and violence.”

Jack Summersby

Jack Summersby is a local editor.