Instant runoff voting bill introduced in Senate

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(Host) Legislation has been introduced in the Vermont Senate that could have a major impact on the state’s election system. The bill implements an instant runoff voting system for all state and federal offices.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Interest in instant runoff voting, or IRV as it’s commonly known, has grown in recent years as more third party and independent candidates run for statewide office. That’s because under the Vermont Constitution, lawmakers decide races if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote. The last time this happened was in 2002 when there was an active three-way race for governor and Republican candidate Jim Douglas led the field with roughly 45 percent of the vote.

IRV allows voters to list their first, second and third choices and it’s used only if no candidate receives a majority of votes cast. Here’s how it works: if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote the candidates with the lowest totals are eliminated and the second choice preferences of their supporters are tabulated until one candidate finally emerges with a majority total.

Addison Senator Claire Ayer is one of the sponsors of the bill. Ayer isn’t sure that she completely supports IRV but she is sure that she wants lawmakers to take a serious look at the proposal:

(Ayer) “A lot of the voters in Addison County feel sort of disenfranchised if they vote for a third party person. They’re worry is that by voting for that third party person they may in fact be putting a person in office who’s the last person that they want. So the system of instant runoff voting, where you do the first second and third – those details would need to be worked out. It makes a lot of sense to me. People can really vote according to how they feel, according to what they know and it gives third parties a chance.”

(Kinzel) Washington Senator Bill Doyle is not a fan of IRV and as the former chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, he was instrumental in keeping the bill tied up and off the Senate floor. Doyle thinks there are serious constitutional issues surrounding Instant Runoff Voting. He favors a plan, used in all federal elections, that allows the candidate with the most votes, even if it’s a plurality and not a majority, to be elected:

(Doyle) “The present system hasn’t worked really badly, like, I think Bob Stafford and Madeleine Kunin and many of our statewide officials – Bernard Sanders – have had less than 50 percent. And we strongly think that they’re legitimate people. No other state has seen fit to do this. So I want to make sure there’s a problem before we make a change.”

(Kinzel) There’s also interest in instant runoff voting for local races. Burlington voters will consider a charter change on Town Meeting Day that would implement the IRV system in future mayoral elections.

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

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