VT-Governor: Will the Legislature Make the Decision?

Vermont is the only state where governors' races are thrown into the legislature if no candidate receives a majority of the vote. Will it happen this year?
by | August 18, 2010

How the time flies: I can't believe it's been two years since I last discussed the possibility that the legislature would pick the next governor of Vermont.

This is one of my favorite topics. Vermont is the only state in the country where the state constitution says that if no candidate breaks 50% of the vote, the legislature gets to decide who becomes governor.

Democrats have comfortable majorities in the legislature. If a Democrat takes the most votes, it's a simple choice. The Democrat becomes governor. If a Republican takes the most votes, though, the choice is somewhat tougher. Do Democrats pick their own party's candidate at the risk of thwarting the will of the people? I'd say (from investigating this topic two years ago) that it's very likely the legislature would pick the top vote-getter regardless of party, but that in a close race things would get interesting.

What if a Republican gets the most votes, but candidates on the left end of the political spectrum add up to a majority? The will of the people is tougher to define in a case like that. This is why some people wish we'd switch to instant-runoff voting.

In 2008, the dynamics pointed to a race without a majority winner. Anthony Pollina ran a lively campaign as the Progressive Party candidate, giving the race a third viable candidate. However, Democrat Gaye Symington turned out to be a major dud. Republican Gov. Jim Douglas won reelection with a clear majority. Pollina ended up finishing second.

This year, the independent and minor party candidates won't be nearly as strong. The Progressive Party chairman is seeking the party's nomination for governor, but only to keep anyone else from entering. She plans to drop out of the race after the primary, in the hopes of unifying the left around the Democratic candidate.

A motley assortment of independent and third-party candidates will be left: a marijuana supporter, a Socialist and a secessionist, among others. Together, they probably won't take more than a few percent points of the vote, making it likely that the top vote-getter will win an outright majority.

Then again, I expect a close race between Republican Brian Dubie and whichever Democrat emerges from the primary. Dubie is a solid candidate, but Democrats have much stronger options than Symington. Polling on the race has been scarce so far, but a race where Dubie and the Democrat are separated by a percentage point or two seems entirely plausible. In that case, the legislature may very well have a difficult decision to make.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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