Majority Requirement: United States Congress
On March 4, 1791 Vermont became the fourteenth state, entitled to representation within Congress. U.S. Senators were elected by joint assembly until 1916, from which time they have been popularly elected. The popular election of Senators has always been by plurality. As in other joint assembly elections prior to the creation of a state senate in 1836, the joint assembly consisted of the house and the governor and council. Election required a majority vote of the joint assembly.
U.S. Representatives have always been popularly elected and the majority requirement, with variations, was the rule until 1915. Vermont initially had two U.S. Representatives, reached a height of six representatives (1813-1822) and since 1933 has had a single representative. When Vermont had more than one representative it created house districts, except from 1813 to 1821 (six representatives) and 1823-25 (five representatives) when the elections were at large. When the majority provision was applied it was for a majority of those voting in a particular district.
The 1791 act spelling out the election of U.S. Representatives (An Act Dividing this State Into Districts for Electing Representatives to Congress, passed January 27, 1791) called for majority election. If there was no majority winner the governor would set a new election date, with the contest restricted to the top three finishers in the initial election. This second election was by plurality; if that election resulted in a tie "it shall be the duty of the clerks openly & publickly to determine said election by lot."
A 1792 act expanded the run-off election to the top four finishers, while a 1794 act opened the run-off to all, simply directing the freemen of the district "to choose a person to represent this State in Congress." Tie votes were still determined by lot.
In 1796 a strict majority requirement was adopted, with elections being held until a majority was achieved. Following an 1811 law that abolished representative districts in favor of election at large, an 1812 act dropped the majority requirement allowing election by plurality.
An 1818 law, to take effect in 1820, returned to the strict majority requirement, regardless of number of elections. Following the Fourth Congressional District of 1830, which took eleven ballotings from September 1830 until June 1832, the majority requirement was modified. Under Act 11 of 1832 if no majority winner emerged after two ballotings, the third election would be by plurality.
In 1848 (Act 14), if no majority winner emerged in the first election, the second would be by plurality (see also Compiled Statutes of Vermont, 1839-1850. Pages 57-61).
Act 6 of 1915 finally eliminated the majority requirement altogether and U. S. Representatives, like U.S. Senators, were elected by plurality.
For more information see Vermont Elections, 1778-.
This page was last updated on: 2012-03-26.