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
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
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.
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.
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.