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Rutland Herald

Instant solution
March 10, 2002

Instant runoff voting is an election procedure that brings common sense to the question of how to elect a candidate with a full majority of the vote.

At town meeting, voters in about 50 towns approved advisory resolutions supporting instant runoff voting. It is a method that has been promoted for several years by those looking for a way to ensure that victorious candidates have the support of a majority of voters.

The rise of the Progressive Party in Vermont has given new urgency to the task of establishing a method to make sure the ultimate winner has majority support. That's because the Progressives have drawn enough support away from the two major parties so that, when a Progressive is in the race, neither the Republican nor the Democrat is assured of 50 percent of the vote.

For governor, lieutenant governor, and treasurer, the Legislature decides races in which no candidate wins a majority. And with members voting by secret ballot, there is no guarantee that the will of the voter, if it is discernible, will be heeded. Increased voter cynicism is the likely result.

Instant runoff voting would benefit third party candidates, which may be one reason legislators are reluctant to advance the new system. The governor's race in 2000 showed why.

In that race, Anthony Pollina was the Progressive candidate, but some voters who might have been tempted to vote for him felt compelled to vote for Gov. Howard Dean instead. Ruth Dwyer, the Republican candidate, inspired such fear and hostility among Democrats, independents and Progressives, that potential Pollina voters felt compelled to support Dean against Dwyer rather than voting for their first choice.

If instant runoff voting had been in place, Pollina supporters could have marked him as their first choice and then marked another candidate as a second choice. If they feared their vote for Pollina would help Dwyer, they could have marked Dean number two, ensuring that if Pollina failed to win a majority, their votes would have then gone to Dean.

Instant runoff voting legislation is now bottled up in the Legislature, and neither major party has rallied to the idea. But recent history shows how frequently candidates may win without winning support of a majority of the voters. In 1992, with Ross Perot in the race, Bill Clinton did not win 50 percent of the vote, and his opponents never let go of the idea that he lacked legitimacy. In 2000, George W. Bush failed to win a majority - in fact, he failed to beat his opponent in the popular vote - and some have never accepted his legitimacy.

The Vermont Constitution requires the Legislature to decide races in the top three offices if no one wins a majority. The bill in the Legislature would provide a mechanism to inform members of the Legislature of the real voter preferences.

It appears, however, that the Legislature is in no hurry to act on the bill.

It would seem members are unwilling to do any favors for the Progressive Party, even though the voters are the ones who would be served best by a system allowing them to vote for the candidate they favor rather than against the candidate they fear.

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