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May 15, 2008

Symington In, Galbraith Out

posted by Josh Goodman

The Vermont gubernatorial race is finally set and it's going to be a good one. On Monday, Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington announced that she's challenging Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, leading the other rumored Democrat, former ambassador Peter Galbraith, to drop out.

The contest also features a third credible candidate: Progressive Anthony Pollina, who won 10% of the vote in a 2000 race for governor and 25% of the vote in a 2002 race for lieutenant governor.

Here's how the Brattleboro Reformer handicaps the contest in an editorial:

If there is a three-way race, Douglas will probably get the 35-40 percent of the conservative Republican vote, Symington will get 35-40 percent of the liberal Democratic vote and Pollina will get the 10 percent that votes Progressive no matter who is running. That leaves the 10-20 percent of the people in the middle, the independents and moderates who have generally voted for Douglas. Who will they vote for this time?

From that description, it might sound as though Pollina is a spoiler, who will take votes that would have gone to Symington if no Progressive were running. And, in fact, there's some sentiment in Vermont that Pollina will hurt the Democrat.

The situation, however, isn't that simple.

The Vermont Constitution states that that if no one gets an outright majority of the vote for governor, the race is thrown into the legislature -- a provision that's analogous to the U.S. Constitution's rule that throws presidential elections into the House of Representatives if no one receives a majority of electoral votes.

So, while Pollina might prevent Symington from beating Douglas outright, he also might help her keep Douglas under 50% (he certainly won't hurt in that regard). Democrats have lopsided edges in both houses of the legislature. More from that Brattleboro Reformer editorial:

There is a very real chance that neither Douglas or Symington will get the 50 percent majority needed for victory, and the House may end up deciding the victor. Considering how many Democrats she and Majority Leader Carolyn Partridge of Windham have recruited in recent years, how do you think they will vote?

The answer to that question isn't as obvious as you might think. I can easily imagine a situation where Douglas takes 49%, Symington 41% and Pollina 10%. In that case, Democratic legislators would face a choice between the candidate they supported and the candidate who won the popular vote.



It's been said before, and I'll mention it again, ranked choice voting would be a perfect fit for a situation like this, that way if no one received a majority in the first round of counting, the candidate who came in lasts' voters would have their 2nd choices counted and dispersed to the remaining candidates and avoids having the Legislature involved. Legislation that would've done just that for Congressional elections in Vermont passed this year, but, interestingly enough was vetoed by the incumbent governor.

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