Election Issues

Popular Vote for President Would Help Vermont

This week the House sent Gov. Shumlin the so-called "National Popular Vote" bill. This bill has Vermont join other states across the country in allocating electoral votes a different way. Once enough states pass this bill we will have a popular vote for president. Every vote will be equal and the candidate with the most votes will be guaranteed to win.

The Founders gave states complete control over how their electoral votes work. Today Maine & Nebraska award votes based on the "Congressional District" system - win the most votes in a Congressional district and you get one elector, two more go to the winner of the statewide total. The remaining 48 states (including VT) use the "winner-take-all rule" where the candidate with the most votes gets all of a state's electoral votes.

The winner-take-all rule means that most states are ignored. Vermont is a reliably blue state, so Obama doesn't campaign here because he can't lose, and McCain ignores us because he doesn't care if he loses by 1% or 30%, either way he loses the whole prize. 35 states are in this ignored/safe/fly-over category because we are predictably red or blue. We aren't polled, candidates don't visit us (except to raise money), and they don't advertise or organize in our states.

Consider, during the Fall of 2008 presidential candidates visited New Hampshire twelve times and never once crossed the river to say hi to Vermonters.

That's because New Hampshire was one of fifteen battleground states. In the Fall of 2008, 2/3 of all the money the campaigns spent went to six states and 98% of the money went to fifteen states. This hurts Vermont and most of the country. A single candidate for VT State Senate likely spent more in Vermont than Obama/McCain combined.

Under a popular vote we aren't going to be the center of campaign attention. But we won't be locked out either. We will no longer have vans taking volunteers from Burlington to West Lebanon because people can canvass their neighbors right here at home. If every vote is equal then the contest becomes about margins everywhere. McCain may still lose Vermont but losing by 12% will be much better for him than an 18% defeat.

Under a popular vote Vermonters will have the chance of our opinions being important to candidates. Right now, if a candidate wants to know where voters stand on renewable energy, Vermont is excluded from the poll (as are voters in 34 other states). Under a popular vote our phones will ring. Our mailboxes will get attention. And most importantly, our opinions will be heard and we will know we were a part of making history by passing the National Popular Vote bill.

The bill requires states that possess a majority of the electoral college to sign up before the change takes effect, that is states holding 270 electoral votes. With Vermont coming on board the total signed up is 77 electors or 29% of the way to the goal. We are joining HI, WA, IL, NJ, MA, MD and DC. The effort is relatively new but already has support from over 2,000 of the 7,000 legislators across the country. We could well see this change in the next election or two. And when we do, Vermont will actually matter in a presidential election and presidential elections will adhere to the one person, one vote principle. How refreshing.

Burlington School Board chairman ousted

March 1, 2011, Burlington Free Press, John Briggs

The low turnout for Tuesday’s annual Burlington city election worked well for incumbent city councilors, but not so current School Board members.

School Board Chairman Fred Lane was ousted by newcomer Paul Hochanadel in Ward 5, 508 to 371. In the other contest school board contest, challenger Ed Scott easily defeated incumbent Nathan Moreau in Ward 7, 656-437. Scott made an issue of Moreau’s record of attendance at board and committee meetings.

Lane said he was disappointed by his loss but gratified that voters approved the $53.4 million school budget.

“First and foremost,” he said, “I’m delighted that the school budget passed. I’m very grateful to the voters. That’s six years in a row we’ve passed it on the first try.”

The vote on the budget was 3,140-2,782.

Lane credited Hochanadel for his hard work in the campaign and said voters may have responded to his opponent pointing out that the other Ward 5 board member, Amy Werbel, is Lane’s partner, making the ward’s two representatives part of the same household.

“Obviously,” he said, “I’m disappointed. I was looking forward to continuing my work on the board. Paul worked hard, and his effort really made the difference.”

In City Council races, In Ward 3, Progressive Vince Brennan, the incumbent, took 59 percent of the vote against two opponents. He got 354 votes to 171 for Democrat Lynn-Marie Mesick and 63 for independent Ron Ruloff.

Brennan won his seat in November in a special election to finish the term of Progressive Marrisa Caldwell, who resigned while in her first term. On Tuesday, he won a full two-year term.

In Ward 7, incumbent Vincent Dober won a new term by defeating Democrat Greg Jenkins 702-567.

Other councilors were unopposed. In Ward 4, newcomer Dave Hartnett, a Democrat, will replace Democrat Nancy Kaplan. And in Ward 6, Democrat Norman Blais was unopposed as he ran to replace Democrat Mary Kehoe, who decided not to seek a second term.

The council’s political configuration will be unchanged: Seven Democrats, three Republicans, two Progressives and two independents.

Apportionment Committee Top Challenges

Monday the Apportionment Committee met for the first time in 2011. Since our work can't really start until the 2010 Census data is released to the state, we focused on the process. What became clear is both the House and Senate re-districting will be complicated and public input will likely be abundant. The State Statutes set that we must have our final Senate plan and draft House plan completed by July 1, 2011. There is a mandatory period for House comments until August but a Senate comment period isn't defined.

House Challenges - People define community in many different ways. With any issue that challenges a person's definition of community, questions are to be expected. Our committee has been charged with coming up with the best plan for all Vermont voters with the goal to come as close to 1 person = 1 vote as possible. At the same time, we need to take into consideration political, social, geographic and other boundaries. It was explained by Bill Dalton, Deputy Secretary of State who has been through this process before, that when one line is moved to try and accommodate a community it has a ripple effect across the state.

Senate Challenge - The greatest debate when we are working on the Senate map will be over the size of our districts. Chittenden County has 6 senators making it the largest district in the country. We have records of much debate about the size of this district. Washington and Windsor district are also considered large with three Senators elected in each. I'm sure both candidates and voters have strong feelings about district size.

I come at this process with the voice of both the candidate and voter on my mind, but with common goal: accessibility. How can we ensure a voter has access to his/her elected officials? What district size makes it prohibitive for a voter to meet and know the candidates? This applies to Senators as well; is it possible for them to engage with lots of voters in a personal way or are they spread to thin forcing the candidate to rely on big money to purchase advertising and send impersonal mailings? Some argue the larger district gives an advantage to constituents from that area, as they might be able to get their legislators to vote as a block. Others argue you are more likely to advance your cause if you have a personal relationship with your Senator. I look forward to other ideas about the pros and cons of district size as we explore the options.

Our next meeting is scheduled for February 24th, and we are hoping to have the data by then. If so, we will spend that meeting identifying "hot spots"--districts where the population has shifted significantly up or down. It's been predicted that we will meet about 15 times in order to create our draft plan! If you have ideas of how to improve your voting district feel free to email me (mbro911 at gmail). I'll keep you posted as this process unfolds.

Don Schramm for Treasurer

I read this letter in Wednesday's Burlington Free Press and wondered what other people think of it? I had been thinking something similar about the way in which Jeb Spaulding ran for office, and is now planning to get sworn in by the legislature for a term he has already announced that he will not serve and THEN resign so that Shumlin, rather than Douglas, can appoint his replacement. Don't we need a law that requires a special election if someone resigns more than a year before the next election?

Shumlin team eyed for sense of balance

November 29, 2010, Bennington Banner, Neal Goswami

BENNINGTON -- Two more top positions were filled Monday by Gov.-elect Peter Shumlin as he prepares his Democratic administration to take the reins of state government on Jan. 6.

Meanwhile, members of Vermont’s Progressive Party are keeping a watchful eye, hoping Shumlin’s team will reflect their values.

On Monday, Shumlin announced that Brian Searles, a former secretary of the Agency of Transportation under former Gov. Howard Dean, would again lead the agency. Searles has worked as the director of aviation at the Burlington International airport for the past five years.

"Brian Searles has the experience, talent and leadership abilities necessary to rebuild our state’s aging infrastructure and revitalize our public transit system in a cost effective manner," Shumlin said. "His leadership on this critical issue will be instrumental to our mission of job creation. I am thrilled that Brian has agreed to join my administration and thank him for his willingness to serve."

State Rep. Sue Minter, a Democrat from Waterbury Center, was announced as the next deputy transportation secretary.

Monday’s appointments follow several made in the past two weeks by Shumlin. The earlier appointments largely focused on positions that will help shape the state budget and economic policy. Democratic State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding was chosen as secretary of administration, the top appointed position. Sen. Susan Bartlett, the outgoing chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee is set to serve as Shumlin’s special assistant. Both are seen as more moderate Democrats.

And James Reardon, finance commissioner in the outgoing administration of Republican Gov. James Douglas, was chosen by Shumlin to stay on the job under Shumlin.

Shumlin narrowly defeated Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie earlier this month. Progressive candidate Martha Abbott withdrew from the race, helping Shumlin secure more liberal voters.

Progressive Party Executive Director Morgan Daybell said Friday that members of the party are waiting for top appointments more aligned with the party.

"I think we’re basically in a wait-and-see mode on that. I know that there are some progressive party leaders that are planning to sit down with him in the coming days to discuss the election and moving forward," Daybell said.

Party officials are waiting for additional top posts to be filled," Daybell said. "I think we’re withholding judgment at this point," he said. "I think the progressives see them as conservative as well, and that’s why we’re sort of waiting to see what other appointments he makes."

Progressive Prevails In Recount

November 23, 2010, VPR

A Progressive Party lawmaker will return to the Vermont House after a judge rejected a challenge to a recount that showed her winning.

A recount Friday confirmed earlier election results showing Rep. Susan Hatch Davis ahead of Republican challenger Rodney Graham, of Williamstown, by four votes. Republicans challenged that recount result. But an Orange County Superior Court judge rejected that challenge.

Meanwhile, a judge in Windsor County will review one disputed ballot today in a currently-deadlocked House race. Republican Rep. David Ainsworth and Democratic challenger Sarah Buxton each have 880 votes.

Judge Katherine Hayes is expected to rule whether the one disputed ballot is valid, and which candidate gets the vote.

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