Markowitz asks for statewide instant run off voting system

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(Host intro) Secretary of State Deb Markowitz will ask the lawmakers next month to support an instant run off voting system for statewide elections in Vermont. Governor Jim Douglas says he’ll oppose this plan. VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Instant Run Off voting, or IRV as it’s known, has the potential of having a major impact on state elections. Currently under the Vermont Constitution, if no candidate in a statewide race receives at least 50% of the vote, the election is decided by the Legislature on the first day of the new session.

This provision will not be needed this year because all the winning candidates for statewide office received a majority of the votes cast, but it’s been used many times in the past, including two races in 2002.

In that election, there were competitive 3 way races for governor and lt. governor. Both Jim Douglas and Brian Dubie were elected by lawmakers after receiving a plurality of votes in the November election.

IRV would only be used if no candidate receives a majority of votes, and Secretary of State Deb Markowitz thinks it’s a big improvement over the current system.

Here’s how it works: when voters cast their ballots, they would also mark their preference in the event that an instant run off election is needed for the two candidates who received the most votes.

(Markowitz) “I think it would be a good positive change for the way we run elections in Vermont, and that’s because people don’t participate in politics and government and voting when they feel cynical. They feel cynical when there’s a disconnect between what they expect and what reality is. People expect that democracy is the person with the most votes wins — that majority rules.”

(Kinzel) Vermont’s Progressive Party is hoping that the issue will come up for a vote during the new session. Martha Abbott is the chair of the Party.

(Abbott) “So what Instant Run Off voting allows you to do, of course, is to have a run off election where the voters themselves decide — not the Legislature choosing — and they’re ultimately choosing somebody who has at least as maybe their second choice more than 50 % support.”

(Kinzel) Governor Jim Douglas doesn’t support IRV and he says there are serious questions if the plan can be implemented without amending the Vermont Constitution.

(Douglas) “There’s a better way to do it than instant run off election, and that is to allow the candidate with the greatest number of votes to win. That’s the way it is in about 48 states. That’s the way it is for our U.S. Senate candidates and U.S. House candidates. It’s the way it works for legislators, county officers and most municipal officials in Vermont. Really I think that is the most efficient and best way to accomplish that goal.”

(Kinzel) While legislation allowing IRV never made it out of committee during the 2004 session, supporters are hoping that the plan will reach the floor of both the House and the Senate for debate this winter. For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel.

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