01/13/2012 in Election WG
Here is the text of the proposal we will be presenting to the OCVT GA on January 14th, 2012:
An amendment to Vermont’s Constitution has been proposed which would change the governor’s, lieutenant governor’s, and treasurer’s races so that they would be decided by a simple plurality (whoever gets the most votes)—even if the vote total of the leading candidate is well short of 50%. Currently, Vermont’s Constitution states that elections for statewide office in which none of the candidates has received 50% of the vote go to the Legislature. Legislators then vote by secret ballot, and whichever candidate receives a majority of the votes in the Legislature gets the office.
The amendment seems appealing because it allows the citizens rather than the legislators to decide these minority elections, a goal which the Election Working Group strongly supports. Unfortunately, if it is enacted, in elections in which there are three or more candidates running—which is the entire point of the proposed amendment—the new amendment institutionalizes the anti-democratic situation we currently have.
In Vermont, most people on the political right vote Republican, while most liberal and progressively-oriented citizens vote Democrat. In the past, when the Progressive Party has put forth a candidate for statewide office, there has been a round of bitter criticism by many progressive and liberal citizens accusing the Progressives of handing over the election to the Republicans by splitting the progressive vote, such as occurred in the election for Lieutenant Governor in 2002. The same problem could occur on the right if there was only one progressive candidate and some conservative party was to run a candidate competing with the Republican and Democrat. That candidate would likely receive most of their votes from individuals who would otherwise vote Republican, thereby “handing the election” to the Democrat. In other words, the proposed amendment is not necessarily bad for progressives or bad for conservatives: it is bad for anyone who challenges the two-party system from any part of the political spectrum.
We recommend that Vermont citizens and lawmakers reject the proposed amendment and instead discuss and implement non-traditional voting methods that promote honest participatory democracy. An explicit goal of any alternative should be to allow Vermonters to vote for the candidate they believe to be best for the state, rather than strategically voting for the lesser of two or more evils based on their guess about how the vote totals will be distributed. There are better alternatives to simple plurality voting, including runoff elections, ranked choice voting (sometime referred to as instant runoff voting), approval voting, range voting, and so on. These alternatives can reduce the need for citizens to vote “strategically” and improve representation in our state.
Here is a PDF version of the proposal for easy printing.