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Rutland Herald

Runoff election advocated
By Alan J. Keays
December 27, 2001

The League of Women Voters of Vermont wants to change the way Vermonters vote for governor.

The league's plan calls for voters to rank candidates, creating a runoff system to decide an election if no one receives a majority of first-place votes.

The group wants a non-binding referendum item on Town Meeting Day ballots in all Vermont cities and towns to gauge public opinion on the proposal.

"We have been trying to get some action in the Legislature on this issue for some time. So far, it hasn't passed both houses," Margaret Gaskins, league president, said Wednesday. "We're interested in what the people of Vermont have to say."

Now, in a race of three or more candidates for governor and some other state offices, if no candidate receives a majority, the Legislature decides the winner.

"The League wants to persuade the Legislature to change this system to one that determines a majority winner in a single election and keeps the selection of the governor in the hands of the voters," the league wrote in a letter to municipalities. "That is why we are soliciting grassroots opinion through the local democratic process of town meeting."

Since 1778, the Legislature has decided statewide elections more than 70 times.

There were some people who thought it might occur again last year as a result of a three-way race for governor between Democrat Gov. Howard Dean, Republican challenger Ruth Dwyer and Progressive Anthony Pollina.

But Dean was able to collect just over 50 percent of the votes.

An instant runoff system would let voters rank their choice for governor in races involving three or more candidates, Gaskins said. If no candidate received a majority of the votes, the candidate with the least number of votes would be dropped, she said.

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

Courts would count runoff ballots, just like a recount vote is counted now, Gaskins said.

The instant runoff format proposed by the league is called "preferential voting" in Robert's Rules of Order.

Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz said Wednesday she supports the instant runoff voting.

"We expect our system to give us majority rule and, in reality, we have plurality rule," she said. "I think instant runoff voting is an excellent, excellent idea."

However, Markowitz said, it's up to municipal leaders to decide whether the non-binding referendum item should be placed on local ballots.

"Towns feel all different ways about putting things on the local ballot," she said. "I wouldn't urge a town one way or the other on this."

The league sent letters out about two weeks ago asking towns to place the referendum item on the March ballots, Gaskins said. She said she didn't know how many towns had agreed to do so.

"It's still early," she said. "Towns have a little while longer to decide."

It will be on the ballot in at least one Rutland County community on Town Meeting Day, March 5: Rutland Town.

Steven Jefffrey, executive director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, said Wednesday he hadn't heard how many towns would place the item on the ballot.

He said it's not unusual for organizations to seek to have non-binding referendum items placed on ballots across the state.

For instance, he said, several years ago the Vermont League asked that communities get voters' opinion on unfunded state mandates.

"We got on the ballot in about 95 towns," Jeffrey said, out of 246 cities and towns in the state.

Gaskins said she had no idea how many communities would end up voting on her organization's question.

"We'd like to see it on as many ballots as possible," she said.

 
 
 
 
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