IRV study due for lawmakers

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(Host) Lawmakers this week will receive a detailed study concerning the possible implementation of an instant runoff voting system for Vermont’s statewide offices.

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz says the report identifies a number of important policy issues for the Legislature to decide if it wants to pursue the IRV option.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Lawmakers requested the study last May to help them determine the feasibility of implementing an IRV system in Vermont.

IRV allows voters to list candidates by choice and would be used only if no candidate receives 50 percent 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 finally emerges with a majority total.

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz says lawmakers need to address a number of key issues including the actual method of counting run off votes and how to design a statewide ballot:

(Markowitz) “We’re hoping with this information, the Legislature, if they’re interested in pursing IRV, will make some decisions – kind of weighing the times and the costs with the benefits they’re hoping will come out of an IRV system.”

(Kinzel) Markowitz says that while a number of U.S. cities use IRV for local elections, there’s no computer software available for statewide contests. This means all towns would have to recount their ballots by hand if IRV is needed. She says it’s a process that would take at least 3 days for each race that’s being recounted.

(Markowitz) “And so we looked at, ok how do they do their counts. Is there some technological assistance? And what we found is really there isn’t, that in Vermont we would need to make it a hand count which we saw last year we’re certainly capable of doing as with our statewide recount.”

(Kinzel) Markowitz says a number of southern states hold an actual run off election between the top two candidates several weeks after the first election. She says the down side to this approach is that voter turn out usually is much lower for the run off.

Markowitz is hoping the report will stimulate debate at the Statehouse.

(Markowitz) “The reality is our political system isn’t majority rule. Sometimes it’s plurality rule. Somebody wins with only 42% of the vote and the majority are against them. And that creates some cynicism about our political system. And it’s my belief that we need to do our best to make sure that people’s expectations and reality matches up about how our democracy works.”

(Kinzel) The Senate Government Operations committee is expected to review the report on Wednesday.

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

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