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Burlington Free Press

'Instant runoff' presents fair solution for voters
By Marge Gaskins
February 28, 2002

Unless the law is changed, it appears very likely that the Legislature, ther than the majority of voters, will be selecting our next governor. Under current rules, if no candidate gets a majority on election day, then the Legislature, rather than the voters, selects the governor.

The Vermont Constitution requires the governor to get more than 50 percent of the votes. The Legislature has had to pick a governor 21 times. Even for offices where the legislature cannot step in, such as U.S. Senate, a problem exists. If several candidates split the vote, a candidate actually opposed by most voters can be declared elected. That is undemocratic.

The League of Women Voters believes that the majority of voters should directly elect their leaders. We think most Vermonters agree. The simplest solution is to adopt a voting reform called "instant runoff voting." The League, along with a host of citizen volunteers, has asked to have this item placed on town meeting agendas across Vermont. About 50 towns will be voting on this non-binding, advisory question at town meeting: "Shall the Legislature be urged to change Vermont's voting law for statewide elections, which currently can result in no candidate receiving a majority and thus the selection of a governor by the Legislature instead of the voters; and replace it with a system that allows voters to rank their choices so that, without the need for a separate runoff election, the candidate preferred by a majority of voters is elected?"

Instant runoff voting is a voting method that determines the majority winner, no matter how many candidates are in a race. In a single election, it combines a regular election with a runoff between the top vote-getters. This avoids the added cost and lower voter turnout, typical of a separate runoff election.

Numerous Vermont organizations, with many thousands of members, are advocating for instant runoff voting, including the League of Women Voters, the State Grange, Common Cause, the American Association of University Women, Vermont Public Interest Research Group, The Older Women's League, and more. Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, the top state election official, and Gov. Howard Dean support it. Republican Ruth Dwyer was a sponsor of the instant runoff bill when she was a member of the Vermont House. Progressive Anthony Pollina has endorsed it. Fully one third of the Vermont Senate, from across the political spectrum, have co-sponsored legislation to adopt instant runoff voting.

With instant runoff voting you would still mark your ballot exactly as you do now, but would also have the option of marking your runoff choices as well. You would be allowed to do this by ranking candidates in order of preference. If one candidate got over 50 percent that candidate would win. But if it turned out that no candidate got more than half of the first-choice votes, then an "instant runoff" count would take place. The candidates at the bottom, with no chance of winning, are eliminated in the instant runoff count. If your favorite is one of the top candidates, your ballot still counts for that person. But if your favorite is eliminated, your ballot automatically counts for your next choice still in the race.

Since only first choice votes are counted by the towns, the same as now, there would be no added cost or burden on the town. If the statewide figures reveal that an instant runoff is needed, it is done as a separate tabulation. With instant runoff voting, everyone will know which candidate is the choice of a majority of voters. For more information on the Web, visit or call (802) 864-8382.


Marge Gaskins is president of the League of Women Voters of Vermont.

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