S.108

AN ACT RELATING TO THE ELECTION OF U.S. REPRESENTATIVE AND U.S. SENATOR BY THE INSTANT RUNOFF VOTING METHOD

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1.  FINDINGS

The general assembly finds that:

(1)  The principle of majority rule is fundamental to the concept of democracy.  When possible, election laws should be structured to uphold and facilitate this basic principle. 

(2)  In a multicandidate race, when no candidate receives a majority, the candidate with the most votes (the plurality) may actually be the candidate most opposed by the majority of voters.

(3)  On 22 occasions in Vermont history, the governor was elected by the general assembly rather than by the voters.

(4)  In 35 percent of all election years in Vermont, one or more federal or statewide races had a result with no majority.

(5)  In one election with no majority winner in the governor’s race, the general assembly deadlocked and elected no governor, forcing the lieutenant governor to serve as acting governor.

(6)  In another election, with no majority in the treasurer’s race, the general assembly elected the candidate who came in third with just three percent of the popular vote, and who subsequently refused to serve, leaving the state with no treasurer.

(7)  It would be desirable, and there is a popular preference, to have a direct popular election by majority vote in all elections for the offices of U.S. senator and U.S. representative.

(8)  A voting system known as “preferential voting” in Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, and popularly known as “instant runoff voting,” which has been used for governmental elections for over 80 years in Australia, as well as in the Republic of Ireland, can fulfill these goals of majority rule, with direct popular election.

Sec. 2.  17 V.S.A. § 2103(43) is added to read:

(43)  “Instant runoff method” means a method of casting, sorting, and counting votes as set forth in sections 2473a and 2593 of this title that accomplishes the same effect as all voters participating in a runoff election, whereby the two candidates with the greatest number of first choices advance to a runoff count, and the ballots of voters who chose nonadvancing candidates as their first choice are re-examined so that their votes are counted during the runoff count for whichever of the final candidates is ranked higher on that ballot. 


Sec. 3.  17 V.S.A. § 2473a is added to read:

§ 2473a.  INSTANT RUNOFF METHOD; APPLICATION; BALLOTS;

                RULES

(a)  Notwithstanding the provisions of section 2472 of this title to the contrary, the instant runoff method shall be used in all general election contests for the offices of U.S. senator and U.S. representative.

(b)  For the purposes of subsection (a) of this section, the secretary of state shall supervise the counting of votes conducted by the instant runoff voting method which may take place at regional centers, and shall adopt procedures, in consultation with local election officials, for implementing this section, including those involving:

(1)  the possible use of mechanical, electronic, or other devices for marking, sorting, and counting ballots and results;

(2)  modification of the form of the ballots and the directions to voters;

(3)  details with respect to the method of marking, sorting, counting, invalidating, and the counting of votes, provided that no change shall be made which will alter the intent or principles embodied in this chapter; and

(4)  a reasonable stipend for regional clerks and assistant election workers conducting an instant runoff count.

(c)  Ballots approved under this section shall allow a voter to rank up to five candidates for an office in order of choice.  If practical, ballots shall be designed such that voters may mark their first choices in the same manner as that for offices not elected by the instant runoff method. 

(d)  Instructions on the ballot shall include a statement to inform voters that they may choose to rank up to a total of five candidates, and that the marking of additional choices will not count against their first choice candidate.  Sample ballots to illustrate voting procedures, using fictitious names, shall be posted in or near the voting booth and included in the instruction materials for absentee ballots.  Prior to each general election, the secretary of state shall conduct a voter education campaign to educate voters on the use and purpose of the instant runoff voting method.  The secretary shall use public service announcements, as well as seek other media cooperation to the maximum extent practicable.

Sec. 4.  17 V.S.A. § 2587(b) is amended to read:

(b)  If the voter marks more names than there are persons to be elected to an office, except as provided in section 2473a of this title, or marks contradictory sides on any public question, his or her ballot shall not be counted for that office or public question.


Sec. 5.  17 V.S.A. § 2592 is amended to read:

§ 2592.  canvassing committees; canvass of votes in

               general or special elections

* * *

(h)(1)  The In the case of candidates other than candidates for the offices of U.S. senator and U.S. representative, the canvassing committee shall declare the person receiving the largest number of votes for each office to be elected, and it shall issue a certificate of election, signed by a majority of the canvassing committee, in substantially the following form:

    State of Vermont            )

                                           ) s.s. 

................  County              )     

At  ...................., on the  ............ day of .................... 20  .........., a canvassing committee appointed by law completed a canvass of the returns cast at a general election held on the ................ day of  ...................., 20  ........ for the office of  ..................... The committee hereby certifies that .................... of  .................... was duly elected to the office by the voters present and voting.

..............................................................................................................

(2)  The committee shall send or deliver the certificate to the candidate elected. In the case of representatives to the general assembly, the committee shall also send or deliver a copy of each certificate to the secretary of state.

* * *

(k)  In the case of the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, secretary of state, attorney general, and auditor of accounts, the canvassing committee shall prepare a certificate of election but shall not sign it.  The prepared certificate shall be presented to the official canvassing committee appointed by the general assembly, pursuant to Chapter II, section § 47 of the Vermont Constitution of the State of Vermont, for their its use if they desire it desires.

Sec. 6.  17 V.S.A. § 2593 is added to read:

§ 2593.  INSTANT RUNOFF METHOD; INSTRUCTIONS FOR

               COUNTING VOTES

(a)  The provisions of sections 2584 and 2587 of this title shall apply to elections conducted by the instant runoff method unless inconsistent with the provisions of this section.

(b)  The following procedures shall be used to determine the winners in elections conducted by the instant runoff method:

(1)  Ballots shall be counted initially by the election officials according to the first choice marked on each ballot.  If one candidate receives a majority of the votes cast, the canvassing committee for U.S. senator and U.S. representative shall issue a certificate of election in the manner provided in section 2592 of this title.

(2)  If, at the end of the initial count, no candidate receives a majority of  first choices, the canvassing committee established in section 2592 of this title shall forthwith petition the secretary of state to determine the candidate who received the major part of the votes by conducting instant runoff counts in the manner provided in this section.  The petition shall be supported by a statement that no candidate is the first choice of a majority of voters.  Upon receipt of the petition, the secretary of state shall issue a certification declaring the names of the advancing candidates and appoint an instant runoff count committee in the manner provided for under the procedures adopted by the secretary of state.

(3)  The instant runoff count committee shall count votes for candidates pursuant to procedures adopted by the secretary of state.  All candidates shall be eliminated except the two candidates with the greatest number of first choices.  Ballots which rank eliminated candidates and which indicate one of the final candidates as an alternate choice shall be counted as votes for whichever of the final candidates is ranked higher for that office on each ballot.  Each ballot is counted as one vote for the highest ranked advancing candidate on that ballot. 

(4)  The secretary of state shall prepare and sign the certificate that declares the winner.

(5)  The report and the counts performed by the committee shall be forwarded to the secretary of state who shall issue a certificate of election to whichever of the two remaining candidates received the greatest number of votes at the conclusion of the instant runoff count.

(c)  The following general provisions shall apply whenever the instant runoff method is used:

(1)  If after the first choice candidate is eliminated, a ballot does not indicate one of the advancing candidates as an alternate choice, the ballot is exhausted.

(2)  The fact that a voter gives more than one ranking to the same candidate shall not invalidate the vote.  The highest ranking given a particular candidate shall count as long as the candidate is not eliminated.

(3)  If there is a tie between candidates so that two or more candidates have an equal number of first choices and more than two candidates would advance to the runoff count, all of those candidates shall advance to the runoff count. 


Sec. 7.  17 V.S.A. § 2601 is amended to read:

§ 2601.  RECOUNTS

(a)  If the difference between the number of votes cast for a winning candidate and the number of votes cast for a losing candidate is less than five percent of the total votes cast for all the candidates for an office, divided by the number of persons to be elected, that losing candidate shall have the right to have the votes for that office recounted.

(b)  In an election conducted by the instant runoff voting method, if the difference between the number of votes cast for a candidate advancing to the final round and the number of votes cast for a nonadvancing candidate is less than one half of one percent of the total votes cast for all the candidates for that office, the nonadvancing candidate shall have the right to have the votes for that office recounted.  The candidate requesting a recount shall do so within 24 hours of the secretary of state issuing a certification declaring the names of the advancing candidates pursuant to section 2593 of this title.  If a recount is requested in a timely manner, the instant runoff count shall be delayed until the completion of the recount.

Sec. 8.  EFFECTIVE DATE

This act shall take effect upon passage and shall apply to the 2008 general election and subsequent general elections.