In Vermont’s gubernatorial election, no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote. The state Constitution requires in such cases that the Legislature then choose a winner when it convenes in January. While at the Statehouse in Montpelier, WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley spoke with some of the key players as the legislative vote looms.
There were eight candidates in Vermont’s governor’s race. Three received less than one percent of the vote, while Libertarian Dan Feliciano received just over 4 percent. The leaders, Democratic incumbent Peter Shumlin and Republican Scott Milne, received 46.53 percent to 45.27 percent, respectively, failing to break the constitutionally mandated 50 percent mark. With the remaining six candidates receiving more than 8 percent of the vote, Milne has not conceded. “You can make a very solid argument that much more than half of Vermonters who voted, voted that they want a different governor than the gentleman who happened to get twenty-four hundred more votes than me. And I am not making one pro-active phone call to any legislator. Maybe I’ll end up being the next governor and maybe I won’t but I think that the process itself will be in the best interest of Vermont.”
Most pundits expect legislators to follow tradition and re-elect incumbent Shumlin, who received more of the popular vote than Milne. But Milne discounts any legislative tradition. “In the last hundred and fifty years there’s only been one situation like this where an incumbent governor did not get a majority. In that case the incumbent won by about nine points. So here we’ve got an incumbent that won by about one point. There’s not a rich tradition to look for folks that have been in this situation before. So it’s something that we really want to be careful and think before we act.”
Middlebury College Professor Emeritus of Political Science Eric Davis reports that this is the third time in 12 years that the gubernatorial election has gone to the legislature. In those three times, as well as more than 20 times dating back to the 1850's, the legislature has always voted for the person with the most votes. “For Milne to expect that the Legislature would not vote for Shumlin would mean overturning more than a hundred and fifty years of historical precedent in Vermont. That’s a big challenge for him. Second he is correct that fewer than half of the people voted for Peter Shumlin. But fewer people voted for Scott Milne than voted for Peter Shumlin. So Milne has to say that Dan Feliciano, the Libertarian who finished third, most of his people would probably have voted for me. Well that’s an argument that there’s really no empirical proof for at all.”
The current highest elected Republican in state government, Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott, will not have a vote because he will preside over both bodies as they cast their secret ballots. But Scott remembers a vote he had to make when he was in the Senate that decided the gubernatorial election between Republican Jim Douglas and Democrat Doug Racine that in some ways mirrors the current race. “There was an undercurrent at that time from some legislators wanting to vote for Doug Racine. And I thought we should go with the popular vote so the person that had the most votes should win. And that’s what I would continue to do if I was in the Legislature at this point. But I think that it is something that each individual legislator will have to weigh out. They’ll have to look at their own constituency. I can understand if you were in a district where you were representing let’s say four thousand people and thirty-five hundred of them voted for Scott Milne or for Governor Shumlin, it would be very difficult to go against your constituency.”
Lieutenant Governor Scott believes it may be time for the state to consider changing the constitution. “I think the person with the most votes should win. But it’s very difficult to change the Constitution, as it should be. I wouldn’t say that there’s a lot of momentum in terms of changing that at this point. But we’ll see. Maybe after this vote maybe people will have different opinions.”
According to the Vermont Secretary of State’s office, of the 439,782 registered voters, 196,086 cast votes in November, a 45 percent turnout.