backers tout poll
By David Mace
March 11, 2002
Supporters of instant runoff voting for the election of the stateís
highest offices ó including governor ó say the results of Town
Meeting Day votes show Vermonters are in favor of the change.
press conference Monday, Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz and
groups that are pushing the adoption of instant runoff voting, or
IRV, pointed to the fact that 51 of 54 towns considering non-binding
referenda on instant runoff voting approved the measure.
... this is a sending a pretty clear message to the legislators,î
said Marge Gaskins, president of the League of Women Voters of
They called on the Legislature to seriously consider a
bill that would change Vermontís election laws in time for the 2002
ìIím a strong supporter of instant runoff voting ...
because it makes democracy what we expect,î Markowitz said. ì ...
People tell me that democracy is majority rule, and theyíre very
surprised when they find itís not majority rule; itís plurality
That, she said, contributes to cynicism about the electoral
Majority rules means that a candidate must get more than
half the total votes. Plurality ó the standard for most elections in
the country, including president ó means the candidate who gets the
most votes wins.
Under Vermontís constitution, if candidates for
governor, lieutenant governor or treasurer donít get 51 percent of
the popular vote, the 150 members of the Vermont House of
Representatives and 30 members of the Senate vote by secret ballot
on the three top vote-getters for each office.
A bill proposed in
the Legislature would adopt IRV, a process by which voters can vote
for their first choice and also note their second or third
preferences as well.
If no candidate got more than 50 percent of
the first-choice votes, there would be a second counting of the
ballots. The first-choice votes for the candidates who got the
lowest vote totals wouldnít be counted.
Voters who only marked one
choice, or who marked the same candidate as their first and second
choice, would see their vote unchanged.
But voters who chose a
candidate as their first choice that wasnít one of the top
vote-getters and indicated a second choice would see their second
choice counted in the runoff.
The concept would allow voters to
vote for a third-party candidate without having to worry that by
doing so they might be giving the election to a candidate they are
opposed to, something called the ìspoilerî effect.
That was widely
believed to have happened in the 2000 election, when Democrat Howard
Dean, Republican Ruth Dwyer and Progressive Anthony Pollina ran in a
three-way race. Some Pollina supporters may have voted for Dean
instead, fearful that the Legislature might choose the conservative
Dwyer if Dean didnít get more than 50 percent.
The same could
happen in both the governorís and lieutenant governorís races this
year, which are expected to have at least three candidates each.
Markowitz and supporters of IRV said if the proposed law passed it
could be used in this yearís elections and not violate the Vermont
Constitution, which could not be amended until the 2008 elections.
But Professor Peter Teachout, a specialist in constitutional law at
Vermont Law School in South Royalton, questioned whether IRV could
survive a court challenge if one were brought.
ìThe framers (of the
Vermont Constitution) clearly envisioned the Legislature taking an
important role in the election process,î he said. ì(With IRV)... you
now have a system where the General Assembly is cut out of the
process, and that is not what the framers imagined. That is not to
say itís not constitutional. Just that it could open the process up
to a serious constitutional question.î
Leaders of both major
parties expressed opposition to the idea.
Scudder Parker, chairman
of the Vermont Democratic Party, said an amendment to the Vermont
Constitution would probably be necessary, and it should simply make
the top vote-getter the winner.
He questioned whether the
non-binding poll results were a true reflection of Vermontersí
ìI think most people were thinking itís fair if you have a
situation where the concept of a plurality was met,î Parker said.
ìWhether or not they were implicitly endorsing the details of
instant runoff voting, I donít know.î
Joseph Acinapura, state
chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, said leaders believed the
ballot would be confusing to voters, and that he personally didnít
like the idea of changing voting methods during an election cycle.
ìI donít think itís fair to the voters ... the candidates, or the
system of the parties,î he said.
Markowitz, a Democrat, said simply
amending the Vermont Constitution to let the top vote-getter win
wouldnít address her concerns, and that IRV would help third parties
and give voters more choice.
ìThe issue of who is the spoiler is
irrelevant,î she said. ì... Bringing more voices (into the race) is
good for democracy.î
Contact David Mace at