VT House approves instant runoff voting

Bob Kinzel // Published March 13, 2008 in Vermont Public Radio

(Host) The Vermont House has given its approval to a major change in the way Vermont's congressional delegation is elected.

By a vote of 81 to 60, the House backed legislation implementing the instant run off voting system for all federal election contests.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The legislation affects only federal races, the contests for the U.S House and U.S. Senate, because there's a strong debate over whether using this voting process at the state level requires an amendment to the Vermont Constitution.

IRV would be used only if no candidate receives a majority of votes - basically the system allows voters to rank candidates in an order of preference.

If no candidate gets a majority, the top two vote getters would remain in the race and then the second choice preferences on the ballots of the remaining candidates would be tabulated, ultimately giving one of the top candidates a majority.

Burlington Rep. Chris Pearson said Vermont needs IRV because a growing number of independent voters want more choice in their elections:

(Pearson)"But our voting process doesn't fit that reality - you run into trouble when more than two candidates enter a race. Vermonters are clear they value choice on the ballot and we owe them a system that can handle that choice without the risk of a spoiler scenario."

Fairfax Rep. Gary Gilbert said the bill would be good for democracy in Vermont:

(Gilbert)"I see this bill really as going to the heart of representative democracy it's a bill that would make James Madison proud it is a bill that would produce statesmen rather than ruling interest groups."

But the legislation had its critics. Colchester Rep. Jim Condon said he's concerned that IRV would stifle political debate because candidates wouldn't want to offend voters who might consider those candidates as their second choice:

(Condon)"I think we need a free flow of debate conversation and criticism for the good of our democracy...I believe that like true love or true friendship democracy is best when it is uncomplicated."

Bennington Rep. Mary Morrissey also had concerns about implementing an IRV system:

(Morrissey)"I don't think we need to be looking to make the process any more confusing or difficult and once again I'm not saying that our voters are confused but with this type of a process being looked at to be put into place concerns me greatly."

Although the bill passed the Senate last year, it faces an uncertain future because Governor Jim Douglas strongly opposes it and it's unlikely that supporters can gather enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto.

For VPR News I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier