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Associated Press

Secretary of State lends support to instant runoff elections
By Krista Larson
March 10, 2002

Proponents of a bill that would allow instant runoffs in state elections say the measure has widespread support among Vermonters.

On Town Meeting Day, 51 Vermont communities approved nonbinding resolutions in favor of allowing instant runoffs.

"The results of the petitions across Vermont show that Vermonters want to be electing their top officials," Secretary of State Deb Markowitz said at news conference at her office on Monday. "They don't want the government deciding, and Vermonters want to have their reality match their expectations--that democracy means majority rule."

Currently if no candidate for governor, lieutenant governor or treasurer receives a majority of the vote, the Legislature decides the winner.

"If we think that majority rule is majority of the people get their way...then finding out that somebody could win and run our state or our nation with only 40 percent of the vote comes to them as a bad surprise," Markowitz said.

Under an instant runoff system, voters rank their choice in races involving three or more candidates, Markowitz said. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes, the candidates with the fewest number of votes would be dropped.

Then all ballots would be counted again, with the votes of those who had supported the dropped candidates shifting to their second choice. The process would continue until one candidate has received a majority of the vote.

The Senate Government Operations Committee is currently considering a bill on instant runoffs.

Committee Chairman William Doyle, R-Washington, believes another way to ensure a smooth gubernatorial transition would be to let the top vote-getter win the election as occurs with congressional races.

Doyle said such a measure would require amending the state constitution, a procedure that could not begin until next year and would take several years to complete, including a statewide referendum, he said.

"All the voters would vote up or down whether they wanted the new system or not," Doyle said. "Otherwise you could vote it in or out every two years."

Still supporters of the instant runoff bill before the committee say they remain hopeful the measure will gain momentum this legislative session.

"I think that the biggest frustration has been that it hasn't really seen a lot of debate in the Legislature," said Marge Gaskins, president of the League of Women Voters of Vermont. "So we're certainly hoping that that that will come about, and it can still come about this year for passage."

Markowitz said Vermont is "a great size to be the place that experiments" with instant runoff voting.

Similar measures also will be considered in New Mexico, Arizona and Alaska, supporters said.

"In my experience with this issue, the biggest roadblock is our ability to simply explain how it would work," Markowitz said. "It really is a very simple process. We have figured out how to design a ballot so that it wouldn't be confusing to people."

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