Douglas should have signed IRV bill

Curtis Fisher // Published April 13, 2008 in The Rutland Herald
Gov. James Douglas had the perfect opportunity to show his support for independent-minded Vermont voters and sign S.108, the Instant Runoff Voting bill. Instead, he chose to veto the bill and ignore voter choice and majority rule. His nonsensical reasons for vetoing the bill appear unrelated to the details of the bill before him and was a glaring example of flip flopping, as he had signed an IRV bill for the City of Burlington two years ago.

In his veto statement, the governor alleges that instant runoff voting violates the principle of one-person, one-vote. Numerous court cases in the United States have upheld ranked voting including a Michigan case challenging Ann Arbor's use of the system in the 1970s that said under IRV "no one person or voter has more than one effective vote for one office. No voter's vote can be counted more than once for the same candidate." Douglas, who served as secretary of state for 12 years, should be able to demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of election law.

If Douglas was so concerned about the constitutional implications of IRV (specifically the one-person, one-vote issue), then why did he sign the Burlington charter change allowing its use in the mayor's race? If he genuinely believes IRV to be unconstitutional, then he was negligent in signing the first IRV bill. If not, he has disingenuously used the Constitution as cover for his irresponsible veto.

Douglas then notes a legal opinion by the attorney general that questioned (incorrectly, I believe) whether instant runoff voting could be used for electing the governor, lieutenant governor and treasurer without first amending the state Constitution. Douglas ignores the fact that 1. this legal opinion also states that "A constitutional amendment is not legally required for the other statewide offices…"; and 2. this bill does not even address those offices! Douglas suggests that advocates pursue a state constitutional amendment to obtain IRV in Vermont after stating that he believes IRV runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution. Voters should be insulted by this political doublespeak coming from the governor.

Finally, Douglas outrageously asserts that "it is mathematically impossible for the candidate chosen by the IRV process to receive a majority of first votes cast." This is nonsense, as most candidates elected using IRV in the United States in recent years won more than 50 percent of the first-choice votes. Either the governor didn't read the bill he vetoed, or he is blowing smoke to confuse the public.

Voters demonstrated their support for IRV at town meetings in 2002; 53 of the 56 towns who included this question on their ballots voted in favor of it. In addition, the majority of Burlington voters who have used the system said they wanted to use it in statewide races. The only conclusion that I can arrive at, given the governor's incredulous "reasons" for vetoing S.108, is that he sees a veto for IRV as a win for the Republican Party. It's too bad that Douglas is putting party politics ahead of voters' choices.

Curtis Fisher is chair of the governing board of Common Cause Vermont, a public interest advocacy organization.