Electoral vote could change

By Neal Goswami
Published April 5th 2007 in The Bennington Banner
BENNINGTON — With just three electoral votes, Vermont is largely ignored by candidates running for president, but despite possible changes to the state's electoral system, it is unlikely to change, says Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz.

Primary options

"Vermont has a very small population, and I think as presidential candidates are making their choices about how to use their resources, they'll go where they get the most bang for their buck," said Markowitz.

Discussions are underway about how to make Vermont more of a factor in the rough and tumble world of presidential politics, however, where large states — with their vast sums of money and delegates — tend to dominate.

There are, of course, some exceptions. To the east, New Hampshire, another small New England state, commands the attention of the entire nation every four years because of its primary date: the first in the country.

Vermont has its primary on Town Meeting Day in March, which will be after most states in the country have already weighed in on their presidential preferences.

"Half of the country will have their primaries on Feb. 5, which means that by the time we get to our primary it may well be over," said Markowitz.

Markowitz said she has given the Legislature several options to consider, but none of them are likely to be dramatic enough to draw candidates to the state.

The first option is to do nothing at all, said Markowitz. Or, the state could cancel its primary and allow political parties to hold caucuses instead as Iowa does, said Markowitz.

Another option would be to move the primary to an earlier date, she said. It would be costly, however, because the state would need to organize another statewide election.

"It would cost the state a tremendous amount of money and it would also be a tremendous expense for each municipality. ... It's really not worth the effort," said Bennington Town Clerk Timothy Corcoran.

The fourth option would be to conduct voting by mail, as Oregon does, said Markowitz. That would mean the Secretary of State's office would handle the election but it could cost twice as much as the state's current system.

Whatever the Legislature chooses, however, will not change Vermont's status in presidential elections, said Markowitz.

"I don't think it will matter. The reality is that New Hampshire, our neighbor, gets attention because they have the first in the nation primary, and I don't think that's going to change anytime soon," said Markowitz.

Corcoran agreed, saying nothing the Legislature chooses can overcome the impact of having so few electoral votes and a recent tendency to vote Democratic.

"There's going to be about 10 or 12 states that have an impact. Even if Vermont had its primary earlier it's not going to get candidates here. Most people know that it's going to go Democratic," said Corcoran.

Another option under consideration is to change the way Vermont assigns its electoral votes. One bill introduced in the House — as part of a national movement — would assign Vermont's three electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.

Some states are considering the legislation to avoid a situation such as in 2000, when President George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore, but won in the Electoral College.

Presently, delegates in the Electoral College generally cast ballots for the candidate that receives the highest vote tally in their state, although they are not bound to do so.

Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, a co-sponsor of the bill in Vermont, said the bill would create more of an "open, pure democracy" that would force candidates to focus their attention outside of swing states.

"I think it would greatly diversify the campaigning of the major candidates because they will no longer focus on the five major states. Every state would be truly purple," said Zuckerman.

Maryland has already passed the legislation, and Gov. Martin O'Malley is expected to sign it into law. The law would only take effect, however, if a number of states, representing a majority of the Electoral College votes, also approve the measure.

Markowitz called the plan a "very creative idea," saying the Electoral College system may be outdated.

"At the time our presidential elector system was put in place, the states were really independent at the time," she said. "Because of the way we travel now, we're really much more of a close-knit country now."

Zuckerman said the legislation is being considered in many states throughout the country and has been introduced by different political parties. The appeal is that under the national popular vote, every vote would count, he said.

"I think it's exciting to have Maryland moving forward," said Zuckerman. "It's had few areas of momentum besides Maryland. ... In some states Republicans are the lead and in some states Democrats are the lead."

In Vermont the bill has yet to be moved in committee.
Sierra Club National Popular Vote Resolution
WHEREAS, the mission of the Sierra Club is to explore, enjoy and protect the planet through grassroots participation in politics and government; and

WHEREAS,  presidential candidates focus their efforts and resources only in battleground states.

WHEREAS, two-thirds of the states receive little to no attention in a competitive presidential election.

THERFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Sierra Club supports National Popular Vote state legislation that will elect the President of the United States by popular vote.

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the Sierra Club supports election of the President of the United States by direct popular vote.