Introduced by Senator Bartlett of Lamoille County, Senator Ayer of Addison County, Senator Condos of Chittenden County, Senator Kittell of Franklin County, Senator Lyons of Chittenden County and Senator Miller of Chittenden County
Subject: Elections; statewide and national offices; instant runoff voting
Statement of purpose: This bill proposes to establish an instant runoff method of casting, sorting, and counting votes to promote the election of statewide offices by a majority of votes. Elections for United States senator, United States representative, and electors for United States president would also be conducted and tabulated by the instant runoff method.
AN ACT RELATING TO ELECTION OF STATEWIDE AND NATIONAL OFFICES BY THE INSTANT RUNOFF VOTING METHOD
It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:
* * * Instant Runoff Voting Method * * *
Sec. 1. FINDINGS
(a) The legislature 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 subsequently refused to serve, leaving the state with no treasurer.
(b) The general assembly further finds that:
(1) The delay from November to the convening of the legislature in January, in determining who will be governor, may be problematic in terms of preparing a proposed budget and finding qualified citizens able to leave their private sector employment for an administration that may never come into being.
(2) It would be desirable, and there is a popular preference, to have a direct popular election of the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, and treasurer, while preserving the majority requirement.
(3) It would be desirable, and there is a popular preference, to have a direct popular election by majority vote in all statewide elections for the offices of secretary of state, attorney general, auditor of accounts, U.S. senator, U.S. representative, and elector for U.S. president and vice president.
(c) The legislature further finds that:
(1) 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 and in England, can fulfill these goals of majority rule, with direct popular election.
(2) The legislative canvassing committee established in accordance with Chapter II, § 47 of the Vermont Constitution would be assisted, in determining which candidate had received “the major part of the votes” through an instant runoff recount conducted by the court-appointed recount committee in cases where the majority choice of the voters is not initially apparent from the count of first choices alone.
(3) Even in cases where there is still no majority winner after the court’s instant runoff vote tabulation, the legislators could benefit from the court’s instant runoff recount in carrying out its constitutional obligation to elect state officers when there has been no election by the voters.
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 only the two candidates with the greatest number of first choices advance to a runoff count in which each ballot counts as a vote 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 following offices when three or more candidates have qualified to have their names printed on the ballot for that office: governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, secretary of state, auditor of accounts, attorney general, U.S. senator, U.S. representative, president, and vice president.
(b) For purposes of subsection (a) of this section, the secretary of state may, by rule:
(1) provide for the use of mechanical, electronic, or other devices for marking, sorting, and counting the ballots and tabulating the results;
(2) modify the form of the ballots and the directions to voters; and
(3) prescribe the details with respect to the method of marking, sorting, counting, invalidating, and the tabulating of votes, provided that no change shall be made which will alter the intent or principles embodied in this chapter.
(c) Ballots approved under this section shall be simple and easy to understand, and shall allow a voter to rank 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. If the secretary determines that the number of candidates for a particular office exceeds the practical space requirements for ranking all candidates on the ballot, the secretary may limit the number of rankings the voter may make. However, if there are three or more candidates for an office, the secretary must provide for ranking at least three choices.
(d) Instructions on the ballot shall include the following statement: “In addition to your first‑choice candidate, you may rank alternate choice candidates if you wish. Marking a second or other choice cannot help defeat your first choice.” 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.
(e) Where a percentage of the vote is referenced in subsection 1904(a), subdivision 2103(23), and section 2601 of this title, the percentage of the vote shall mean the percentage of first choices.
Sec. 4. 17 V.S.A. § 2493(c) is added to read:
(c) In the case of elections conducted by the instant runoff method, the secretary of state shall adopt rules to ensure that the arrangement of names, offices, and choice on each type of machine conforms as nearly as practical to the ballot design adopted by the secretary under section 2473a of this title.
Sec. 5. 17 V.S.A. § 2587(a) and (b) are amended to read:
(a) In counting ballots, election officials shall attempt to ascertain the intent of the voter, as expressed by his or her markings on the ballot. If it is impossible to determine the intent of the voter for any office or public question, the ballot shall be counted as blank or spoiled, as the case may be, for that office or question; but that determination shall not control any other office or question on the ballot for which the voter’s intent can be determined. If they have any doubt about the intent of the voter or any other question about a ballot, the election officials counting the ballot shall bring it to the presiding officer, who shall present the question of how to treat the ballot to the assembled election officials. The decision of how to treat the ballot shall be made by majority vote of the election officials who are present.
(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. 6. 17 V.S.A. § 2592 is amended to read:
§ 2592. CANVASSING COMMITTEES; CANVASS OF VOTES IN GENERAL OR SPECIAL ELECTIONS
* * *
The In the case of
candidates other than candidates for the offices of governor, lieutenant
governor, treasurer, secretary of state, auditor of accounts, attorney general,
U.S. senator, U.S. representative, president, and vice president, 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)
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 .........., 19.....
20…. for the office of ................... The committee hereby
certifies that .................. of ................. was duly elected to the
office by the voters present and voting.
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,
auditor of accounts, and attorney general, 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, for their its use if they desire
Sec. 7. 17 V.S.A. § 2593 is added to read:
§ 2593. INSTANT RUNOFF METHOD; INSTRUCTIONS FOR
(a) The provisions of section 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 state and national offices shall issue a certificate of election in the manner provided in section 2592 of this title. With respect to the presidential election, the certificates of election shall be issued as provided in sections 2592 and 2731 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 Washington County superior court to determine the candidate who received the major part of the votes by conducting instant runoff recounts 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 court shall appoint an instant runoff count committee in the manner provided for appointment of a recount committee under subsection 2602(a) of this title, and follow substantially the same procedures provided for recounts under subchapter 9 of chapter 51 of this title.
(3) The instant runoff count committee shall sort and count votes for candidates. If, in the first round, no candidate received a majority of first choices, 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. In each round, each ballot is counted as one vote for the highest ranked advancing candidate on that ballot.
(4) If a candidate receives a majority of votes, the court shall issue a certificate of election. In the case of the election of governor, lieutenant governor, or treasurer, the court shall prepare the certificate of election, but shall not sign it, and forward it to the official canvassing committee appointed by the general assembly, pursuant to Chapter II, § 47 of the Vermont Constitution. With respect to any other office, the court shall prepare and sign the certificate, and deliver a certified copy to the secretary of state.
(5) If neither of the last two remaining candidates for the office of governor, lieutenant governor, or treasurer receives a majority of the votes cast, excluding blank and spoiled votes, the court shall prepare a report of no election. The report and the tabulations performed by the committee shall be forwarded to the official canvassing committee appointed by the general assembly, pursuant to Chapter II, § 47 of the Vermont Constitution, for its use in the election of the governor, lieutenant governor, or treasurer if it desires. The general assembly shall proceed to elect one of the three candidates for whom the greatest number of votes has been returned.
(6) Notwithstanding the provisions of subdivision (5) of this subsection, if neither of the last two remaining candidates in an election for the office of secretary of state, auditor of accounts, attorney general, U.S. senator, or U.S. representative received a majority, the report and the tabulations performed by the instant runoff count committee shall be forwarded to the Washington superior court which 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 tabulation, and send a certified copy of the tabulation and results to the secretary of state.
(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 such that two or more candidates have an equal number of first choices such that more than two candidates would advance to the final round, the instant runoff method shall be used to determine which two candidates shall advance as the two candidates in the final round of counting.
Sec. 8. 17 V.S.A. § 2731 is amended to read:
§ 2731. CERTIFICATES OF ELECTION
When the canvassing board provided
for in section 2592 of this title meets, it shall issue its certificates of
election, with respect to the presidential election, to the electors nominated
by the party whose candidate
for president has received the greatest number
of votes received a majority of the votes cast. If the board’s
examination of first choices does not reveal the majority winner, the
certificate shall instead be issued in accordance with the provisions of
section 2593 of this title.
Sec. 9. 17 V.S.A. § 2732 is amended to read:
§ 2732. MEETING OF ELECTORS
The electors shall meet at the state house on the first
Monday after the second Wednesday in December next following their election, to
vote for president and
vice-president vice president of the United
States, agreeably to the laws of the United States. If there is a vacancy in
the electoral college on that day, occasioned by death, refusal to act, neglect
to attend, failure of a person elected to qualify, or for other cause, the
other electors present shall at once fill such vacancy viva voce and by a
plurality of votes. When all the electors appear or a vacancy therein is
filled, the electors shall perform the duties required of them by the constitution
and laws of the United States. If a vacancy occurs and is filled as aforesaid,
the electors shall attach to the certificate of their votes a statement showing
how such a vacancy occurred and their action thereon. The electors must vote
for the candidates for president and vice-president who received the
greatest number of votes at the general election vice president who were
declared the winners in accordance with the provisions of section 2593 or 2731 of
* * * Miscellaneous Provisions * * *
Sec. 10. 17 V.S.A. § 2473 is amended to read:
§ 2473. PROVISIONS RELATIVE TO PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
(a) When the president and
vice president are to be elected, the ballot shall contain the names of
all candidates for these offices, arranged in alphabetical order according to
the surname of the presidential candidate of each party. The names of the
electors shall not be printed on the ballot. A vote for the presidential and vice-presidential
vice presidential nominees of a party shall constitute a vote for the
electors nominated by that party.
(b) The name and state of
residence of the presidential and
vice-presidential vice presidential
candidate of each party shall be listed on separate lines joined together by a
bracket, followed by the party designations and a single square for that pair
of candidates. In lieu of the instructions: “Vote for not more than (the
number of candidates to be elected)”, the following instructions shall appear: “Mark
ONE square only.”
(c) If a candidate for president
whose name is not printed on the ballot
receives the greatest number of
votes for president is declared the winner as provided in section 2593
of this title, the secretary of state shall notify him that
candidate of that fact, and within two weeks thereafter, the candidate
shall file with the secretary of state , a list of freemen voters
equal to the number of electors which the state is entitled to elect. The list
shall be signed by the candidate personally. The persons so named shall be
electors, having the duties prescribed in this title.
Sec. 11. 17 V.S.A. § 2594 is added to read:
§ 2594. SORTING AND COUNTING OF VOTES BY THE CANVASSING
COMMITTEE OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
The canvassing committee of the general assembly appointed in accordance with Chapter II, § 47 of the Vermont Constitution retains the option of directly sorting and counting the votes for governor, lieutenant governor, and treasurer using the instant runoff method set forth in section 2593 of this title. The municipal clerks, county clerks, secretary of state, and state police shall provide such assistance and cooperation as may be required if the canvassing committee of the general assembly decides to conduct a direct sorting and counting of the votes as provided in Chapter II, § 47 of the Vermont Constitution.
Sec. 12. EFFECTIVE DATE
This act shall take effect on January 1, 2004, and shall apply to the 2004 general election and subsequent general elections.
The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street