Instant Run Off Proposed for Statewide Elections

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(Host) The Vermont League of Women’s Voters is urging lawmakers to support a plan to implement an instant run off election system in the state. The League says democracy is not well served when the Legislature determines the outcome of statewide races.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The League of Women’s Voters is very concerned that in the near future, a race for governor will be decided by lawmakers and not voters. This would happen because under the Vermont Constitution, if the winning candidate in a statewide contest does not receive 50% of the vote, the race is determined by the General Assembly on a secret ballot.

Under the instant run off plan, voters would have the opportunity to rank the candidates by choice. If no candidate in the race receives 50% of the vote, the instant run off plan would go into place. Here’s how it would work using last year’s gubernatorial race as an example:

Let’s say you ranked Progressive candidate Anthony Pollina first and Democrat Howard Dean second. Dean and GOP candidate Ruth Dwyer were the top two voter getters, with Pollina coming in third. Under the instant run off proposal, Pollina would be eliminated from the race but the second choice votes on his ballot would be tabulated. These votes would then give either Dean or Dwyer a majority vote.

League president Marge Gaskins says the plan is needed this year because there may be four strong candidates in the gubernatorial race:

(Gaskins) “Part of the reason is because it’s a secret ballot – we have no idea who’s voting. You assume it is going to be pretty partisan and you maybe assume that the candidate who gets the most popular votes would be the one that they choose, but that’s not necessarily true.”

(Kinzel) Legislation implementing the instant run off plan is currently bottled up in the Senate Government Operations committee. Committee Chairman Bill Doyle says the plan may be too complicated for voters to understand.

Doyle prefers the passage of a constitutional amendment that would allow a candidate who receives less than 50 % of the vote to be declared the winner of the election:

(Doyle) “I don’t see anything happening this year¿. In the past, we’ve had members of the congressional delegation who have gotten 47% of the vote or 46% of the vote. They are the top vote getters as far as I’m concerned, they’re legitimate winners and I think that’s what should be state policy.”

(Kinzel) The issue of instant run off voting will be a non-binding referendum question in about 45 communities on town meeting day.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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