House Panel Dials Back on the Self-Dealing, Approves Election Bill

In a fairly quick hearing on Friday, the House Government Operations and Military Affairs Committee voted 9-3 in favor of a package of election reforms. It was a party line vote with all Democrats in favor, all Republicans opposed, and no Progressives on the committee.

The changes in H.97 (as it is now called) make the package less overtly Democrat-friendly, and add an important improvement for those who need to vote remotely. (Text of bill downloadable from the committee’s webpage.)

The latter first: The bill would allow people to deliver their completed ballots electronically by “a secure online portal developed and maintained by the Secretary of State.” This would make it easier for those who have trouble delivering a ballot in person, including some people with disabilities and — especially — military personnel stationed overseas.

The original bill had drawn criticism for advantaging Democrats largely at the expense of the Progressive Party, but two pro-Dem changes were removed or watered down before the committee vote. The original bill would have barred candidates from running under multiple party labels, which is exactly how many Progressive candidates have won office. It would also have removed limits on donations by a candidate to a political party.

As approved, H.97 would allow candidates to run with multiple labels, but it prescribes the order in which the party names would appear next to the candidate. And donations from a candidate to a party would be capped at $100,000, an increase from the current $10,000.

But the bill, as a whole, remains Democrat-friendly.

The “sore loser” provision remains. A candidate who lost in a party primary would be barred from competing for the same office as an independent or under another party’s banner. In a handful of instances in recent years, a Progressive has lost a Democratic primary, run in the general election as a Prog and split the lefty vote — resulting in the election of a Republican. In 2016, Progressive Marcy Young lost the Dem primary for state House in Lamoille County and was then nominated by the Progressives. She effectively split the liberal vote, allowing a Republican to win. Democrats don’t forget those kinds of things easily. I mean, they actually wrote “Sore Loser Law” into the text of the bill, which betrays a bit of peevishness.

A subtler anti-Prog provision remains in the bill. As you may know, a political party qualifies for “major party” status by receiving at least 5% of the vote in any statewide contest in the previous election. The Progressive Party will be a major party in 2024 because Lt. Gov David Zuckerman (Prog/Dem) and Auditor Doug Hoffer (Dem/Prog) each won more than 5% of the vote, and that counts toward both parties’ status.

But under H.97 it wouldn’t be so simple. A successful candidate’s votes could only count toward one party’s status. A Hoffer or Zuckerman would have to choose which party their votes would apply to. One can imagine such a candidate would be under pressure from the Democrats to apply their votes to the VDP. That could be a big deal for a candidate (like, say, pre-2020 Zuckerman) with aspirations to run for higher office. Giving major party status to the Progs would not sit well in Democratic circles.

Committee Democrats also scaled back a provision that would have made it harder to run as an independent. Current law gives party candidates until late May to file their candidacy papers, while independents can wait until August to do so. The original bill would have set the same May deadline for all. THe new H.97 leaves the deadlines where they are now.

H.97 would raise the threshold for a write-in candidate to claim victory. I guess they could have called this the Mickey Mouse law, but they chose not to. A write-in candidate couldn’t win simply by, say, getting two votes while all other write-ins get one apiece. They’d have to meet certain thresholds: earning more than 10% of the votes cast by a party, or at least as many votes as are required on a candidate’s primary petition

The Progressives remain unhappy. They put out a fervent press release after the commitee vote with an email subject line of “SAVE DEMOCRACY.” It depicts H.97 as a five-alarm threat to our system. I have to say, this is about as believable as Norma Desmond’s acting.

Sure, the bill favors the Democrats. But it’s a hell of a lot less Prog-punitive than the original version. Besides, the Dems are absolutely within their rights to change the law in ways that favor themselves. You win elections, you win majorities, you get to rewrite election law. It’s our system. And H.97 is a pretty mild form of self-dealing compared with what the original bill would have done — or with the outright theft committed by one-sided majorities in other states.

The Progressive Party doesn’t do itself any favors when it launches overweening attacks against the Democrats. This is the kind of thing that makes Dems view Progs as purity-obsessed and whiny. The Progs can do whatever they want, of course. But if they were to cut the flamethrowing, praise the positives in the bill (fusion candidates, electronic filing), and identify a key provision or two that they’d like to change, they might actually get their way. The Dems have already proven they’re amenable to persuasion by removing or weakening the most offensive portions of the bill.

The Dems have also proven, over and over again, that they don’t respond well to intemperate rhetoric from the Progs.



4 thoughts on “House Panel Dials Back on the Self-Dealing, Approves Election Bill

  1. JF Carter Neubieser

    This is one of the worst takes I’ve read in a while. “Besides, the Dems are absolutely within their rights to change the law in ways that favor themselves. You win elections, you win majorities, you get to rewrite election law.” No, we live in a democracy, parties should not write election laws that favor themselves.

      1. Carter neubieser

        And you seem to be openly endorsing that fact. In the same way corporate money influences our political process deserves scrutiny so do attempts by parties to consolidate power by writing election law that favors them.

        Even more ironic in the age of trump when the Democratic Party has talked (rightly) about the fundamental threat trump poses to our democratic processes, to then pass policy which undermine them is beyond hypocritical.

        This degrades trust, and is yet another example of why people do not trust our institutions. The fact that you’re more critical of the folks calling out this practice than at those perpetrating this deeply problematic practice is concerning & to me, demonstrates the problem with the Montpelier ecosystem.

        Respectfully of course!

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