Instant runoff voting bill stalled in committee

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(Host) Supporters of instant runoff voting say that the Legislature has refused to debate the issue. So the election reform advocates went to the Statehouse on Wednesday and asked a Senate committee to advance the bill for a vote. But some lawmakers say they can’t take quick action, because they believe a constitutional amendment is required for Vermont to adopt an instant runoff system.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Last year on Town Meeting Day, 50 towns showed their support for instant runoff voting. Advocates of IRV hoped that these non-binding resolutions would propel the issue to the top of this year’s legislative agenda.

But an instant runoff bill is stalled in the Senate Government Operations Committee. The committee has heard testimony that a constitutional amendment is needed in order to change the voting system.

Jesse Rosado is a supporter of instant runoff voting. On Wednesday, he delivered a petition signed by more than 400 people who want the bill moved to the Senate for a vote. Rosado says he’s frustrated that the committee hasn’t advanced the bill.

(Rosado) “The fact is whenever there is a constitutional issue, it’s up to the Supreme Court to decide whether something is constitutional. It’s not up to the Government Operations Committee. I think by not allowing hearings or by holding a bill just based on the premise that it might not be constitutional is kind of not allowing the process to work.”

(Dillon) The Vermont Constitution now says the Legislature must elect the governor and lieutenant governor if no candidate receives 50% of the vote. Supporters of the instant runoff system argue that voters should directly elect their leaders. Under IRV, the voters would rank candidates in order of preference to determine a majority winner.

Assistant Attorney General Bill Griffin told lawmakers that IRV requires a change to the constitution. Constitutional amendments must pass a statewide referendum before they’re ratified. So Griffin says the amendment route would have the added benefit of allowing voters to have a direct say in the issue.

(Griffin) “Our strong recommendation is, let the electorate decide whether they want to make this change, through amending the constitution rather than having the General Assembly do it by statute.”

(Dillon) Washington Senator William Doyle is chairman of the Government Operations Committee. He says the panel can’t advance the bill with the constitutional questions unresolved.

(Doyle) “I don’t know of any legislative committee who have taken a bill to the floor when the attorney general has indicated it has constitutional problems.”

(Dillon) The committee will hold a public hearing on instant runoff voting next month.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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