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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Amendment Would Allow Gubernatorial Candidate To Win Without Majority

Angela Evancie
Under the Vermont Constitution, Gov. Peter Shumlin, shown here in January 2014, didn't earn enough votes for reelection, despite getting more than challenger Scott Milne. A proposed Constitutional amendment would allow a candidate to win with 40 percent.

Longtime Washington County Sen. Bill Doyle says he'll propose a constitutional amendment to make it less likely that lawmakers will be asked to elect a governor in the future. Doyle says the results of this year's election show why his amendment is needed.  

On Thursday, all 180 lawmakers will receive a ballot to determine who will be the next governor of Vermont. This will happen because the Vermont Constitution calls for a legislative vote whenever the winning candidate fails to receive a majority in the November election. This year Democratic incumbent Peter Shumlin won 46 percent of the vote and Republican Scott Milne got 45 percent.

Doyle was first elected to the Senate in 1968. Since that time, on a number of occasions, he's sponsored a constitutional amendment to change the current system. Under Doyle's amendment, lawmakers would not be involved if the winning candidate received at least 40 percent of the vote. He thinks it makes a lot of sense because Vermont is one of just two states in the country that maintains a two-year term for governor.

"The present situation and over the years we have not known who would be the governor for two or three months. I don't think that helps the process of government." - Washington County Senator Bill Doyle

"It's in the best interests of the state that we know after elections who wins; that would be the ideal,” said Doyle. “The present situation - and over the years - we haven't known who would be the governor for two or three months. I don't think that helps the process of government."

Several states require runoff elections when no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote. Doyle doesn't like that approach because he says far fewer voters turn out for these special elections.

"You've got a different clientele voting the second time around,” said Doyle. “Why not just go with the top vote getter who gets 40 percent? That would be preferable to a runoff."  

Credit Taylor Dobbs / VPR
Washington County Sen. Bill Doyle will propose a Constitutional amendment to make it less likely that lawmakers will be asked to elect a governor in the future.

A group supporting Milne has spent $30,000 on a TV ad campaign urging lawmakers to vote for the Republican candidate. Milne has also bought web ads and used social media to make the case for his election.

Shumlin says this process is not good for democracy in Vermont and he strongly supports Doyle's amendment.

"If we enter an atmosphere in Vermont's democracy where you run two campaigns, the first one to try to get 50 percent and the second one to try to convince folks that the person who gets the most votes shouldn't win, I think that's a really dangerous precedent,” said Shumlin. “I think 40 percent makes good sense."

Because the constitutional amendment process requires votes by two separately elected Legislatures and approval by voters in a statewide referendum, Doyle says the earliest it could go into place is 2018.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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