IRV legislation sets off spirited debate

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(Host) A Senate committee is expected to approve legislation this week that will implement an Instant Run Off voting system beginning next year.

The issue has set off a spirited debate among the members of the committee.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The bill calls for IRV to be used only in Vermont’s congressional elections so it wouldn’t apply to statewide races such as governor.

IRV is used only if no candidate receives 50% of the vote. Under the system, voters are allowed to list their first, second and third choices on the ballot.

If no candidate receives 50% of the vote, 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.

The city of Burlington used IRV during the race for mayor last year.

Senate Government Operations chairwoman Jeannette White is a strong supporter of the plan:

(White) “It’s always a good idea to elect somebody by a majority rather than a plurality and I believe that this gives an opportunity for people to vote for those candidates that are going in the direction that they would like to go. So if their first choice doesn’t happen to win they can choose the candidate that at least is going in the direction they would like to go.”

(Kinzel) Washington County senator Bill Doyle plans to vote against it.

(Doyle) “I’ve never heard anyone criticize the way our congressional delegation has been elected. Sometimes they’ve had 48 or 49 % but we’ve always felt they were legitimate. I have no idea why we’re doing this. We’re going to spend $45,000 to up to $300,000 to change a system that works now.”

(Kinzel) Several weeks ago, Congressman Peter Welch told the committee in a phone interview that he supports the use of IRV:

(Welch) “IRV is a tool that enhances voter choice and as a general proposition is good for democracy.”

(Kinzel) The committee also took phone testimony from Senator Bernie Sanders who believes IRV will eliminate the perception that some candidates are spoilers in a specific election:

(Sanders) “Instant run off allows people more options in that sense, allows people to vote for what they really want without worrying about the possibility of them getting what they really don’t want.”

(Kinzel) If the committee votes for the IRV plan, the legislation could be up for debate on the Senate floor by the end of the week.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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