A question for Mahatma the All-Knowing

Dear Mr. Milne,

You have floated the notion that the Legislature ought to drop its traditional practice of electing the top vote-getter in gubernatorial elections in which no candidate won a majority. Instead, you say, lawmakers should act like an Electoral College, casting their votes based on which candidate won their district.

Okay, a completely novel idea that flies in the face of precedent. But it does raise a question.

If a lawmaker represents a district where a single candidate won a majority of votes, then it’s clear that you’d want the lawmaker to reflect the constituency.

Now…

What about a district in which no gubernatorial candidate won a majority? Where the top finisher earned a plurality? What should that lawmaker do?

Example: in Washington County, you finished barely ahead of Governor Shumlin. If you only earned a plurality in the county, why should you be entitled to claim the votes of all three state senators?

Your underlying argument is that a plurality does not provide a clear mandate. Stands to reason, then, that a plurality edge in a given county does not constitute a mandate for its senators. Right?

What, then, do those senators do?

If you say “Vote for the plurality winner,” then you are a hypocrite.

The other two options are, (1) those lawmakers should be free to vote their conscience, on whatever grounds they make their decisions, or (2) they should try to cobble together an IRV-style “ideological majority” from their county’s returns and vote for the candidate who earned their imaginary majority.

What we’ve done here is opened a big ol’ can of worms. And I think this is one reason why past lawmakers hewed to the precedent of electing the top vote-getter regardless of party affiliation. (And why, on those rare and ancient occasions they diverged from precedent, there was always something funny about it.)

Now, you being you, I don’t expect a straight answer, just more of your argument-of-convenience, throw-stuff-against-the-wall style of reasoning.

But I thought I’d ask.

Thanks,

John Walters

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