Tag Archives: plurality

Elections: If it’s broke, don’t fix it

Our Esteemed Leaders seem to be in the process of backpedaling away from a reform measure on the grounds that the problem hasn’t caused widespread mayhem just yet. In this case, it’s our antiquated way of deciding a gubernatorial election when no single candidate wins a majority. The problem slithered out of the dank recesses of Vermont history when Governor Shumlin barely eked out a plurality win over Scott Milne, and Milne refused to concede. Technically, we didn’t have a governor-elect until a couple hours before his inauguration.

Reminds me of my previous post about vaccines. Well, it’s a common theme in the Legislature. I call it Grandfather’s Lightbulb Syndrome, after the classic joke:

“How many Vermonters does it take to change a light bulb?”

“Change it? That was my grandfather’s light bulb!”

To which I would add, “And nobody’s fallen down the staircase yet!”

Several possible changes to our system have been proposed; all are simple, and any one would prevent future occurrences of a losing candidate fighting on or, worst case, a losing candidate actually winning election in the Legislature. Hey, it’s happened before.

So what will lawmakers do about it?  Sad to say, my money’s on Jack Diddly Squat. Because on issue after issue, they respond to potential problems by saying, “Why lock the barn door? We haven’t lost any horses yet.”

Think I’m too cynical? Take a look at this.

The chair of the Senate Committee on Government Operations said Wednesday she’s not so sure Vermont should amend its constitution to limit the legislature’s role in selecting statewide officeholders.

“We are more seriously looking at whether we need to have a change,” Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham) said.

Well, Senator, what exactly would convince you that we need to have a change? An actual Constitutional crisis instead of a near-miss?

That’s bad enough, but there’s also this:

After the hearing, White said she remained “confused” about her own position.

“Part of me says it’s fine just the way it is,” she said. “It seems to work. People are elected.”

White’s committee has now held three hearings on the issue. And she’s “confused”? Jeezus H. Christ.

Don’t blame me, Senator, when your horse gets stolen or someone falls down the staircase.

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.


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.


John Walters