IRV legislation gets preliminary approval

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(Host) The Vermont Senate has given preliminary approval to legislation that makes a major change in the way the state elects members of Congress.

The vote for instant runoff voting was 15 – 13.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel has our story.

(Kinzel) The vote marks the first time that a Vermont legislative body has supported Instant Run Off voting. This bill limits IRV to the state’s congressional elections beginning in 2008.

IRV is used only when no candidate receives 50% of the vote. Voters are allowed to list their first, second and third choices. The candidates with the lowest vote totals are eliminated and the second choice preferences of their supporters are tabulated until one candidate emerges with a majority total.

Senate Government Operations chairwoman Jeannette White is a strong supporter of IRV.

(White) “If our elections are only to fill a position then the system we’re using is fine. If, however, our elections are to reflect democratic principles and majority rule, we could do a better job.”

(Kinzel) Some critics of the plan believe it will water down the discussion of issues in a campaign because candidates will be reluctant to antagonize the supporters of their opponents. But White strongly disagrees.

(White) “If the candidates can’t appeal on the major issue to a voter, maybe they’ll find some commonality with voters on other issues and as a result will have to address a broader range of issues. So it’s seen as opening up the issues rather than limiting them.”

(Kinzel) Chittenden senator Diane Snelling said she opposes IRV because she thinks it distorts the voting process. She said it reminded her of the voting procedure used on a popular TV program where singers are eliminated every week based on the votes of viewers:

(Snelling) “I have referred to this proposal for IRV as the American Idol of voting. I do not believe in IRV. I think it changes the fundamental responsibility of a citizen. I think it also changes the concept of one person, one vote and I simply cannot support it.”

(Kinzel) Chittenden senator Hinda Miller told her colleagues that she’s the only member of the Senate who’s experienced IRV. The city of Burlington used it in the 2006 mayor’s race. Miller was the Democratic candidate.

Progressive Bob Kiss didn’t initially receive a majority vote but was elected because many supporters of the Republican candidate marked Kiss down as their second choice.

(Miller) “It becomes a system of gaming. And I don’t think that it really gives an honest evaluation of who people choose first.”

(Kinzel) The measure is expected to come up for final approval in the Senate on Thursday.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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