Election by Joint Assembly, Summary
The presence of multiple ("third party") candidates can prevent anyone from achieving a majority vote. For example, twenty-two times no one received a majority for governor, throwing the election into the General Assembly (or, prior to 1836, into a joint assembly of the legislature and executive council). Usually, but not always, the General Assembly selected the candidate who received the plurality.
Examples of when the non-plurality winner was elected include:
The first time an election failed to produce a majority winner in the gubernatorial race (1789), the joint assembly chose the second place finisher. Thus the incumbent, Thomas Chittenden, was unseated by Moses Robinson, though he won the popular vote by 44.1% to 26%. Chittenden's failure to attain a majority reflected an emerging opposition to the early Revolutionary leaders as well as concerns over his involvement in a questionable land grant.
In 1789 Vermont had a unicameral legislature. Under Section X, Chapter II of the 1786 Constitution, in the event no candidate for governor, lieutenant governor, or state treasurer received a majority, a joint assembly of the General Assembly and the Executive Council "shall make choice..." There was no restriction that only the top three vote getters be consider by the joint assembly. See also Section XVII, Chapter II of the 1777 Constitution.
In 1835 the joint assembly, split among partisan factions (Anti-Masons, Democrats, and an emerging Whig Party), declared itself unable to elect a governor after sixty-three ineffectual ballots. The lieutenant governor served as acting governor for the term. The failure to chose a governor contributed to the creation of a state senate and the abolition of the executive council under constitutional amendments adopted in 1836. Those amendments set up the process we currently follow.
That the adopted amendments did not resolve all difficulties became evident the following year. In 1837 the General Assembly elected the third place finisher in the treasurer's race, even though he captured only 3.4% of the popular vote. The treasurer thus elected refused to serve, causing constitutional confusion. The Constitution only said the General Assembly shall elect a candidate from among the top three finishers and made no allowance for a second election if the candidate so elected refused to serve. On October 26, 1837 the governor appointed a treasurer to fill the vacancy, though the General Assembly did not abandon efforts to call a joint assembly for the purpose of holding a second election until November 1st.
In 1853 factions (notably Democrats and Free Soil Democrats) within the legislature combined to elect the Democratic slate, though the Whig candidates had received the plurality. The following year the Republican Party was formed and the Democrats would not return to the governor's office until 1963.
The last time the non-plurality winner was selected was in the 1976 lieutenant governor's race, when T. Garry Buckley (R) was chosen over John Alden (D). While there was not a third party presence in the General Assembly, Alden's plurality was the result of receiving votes as a Democrat and as an "Independent Vermonter;" without the independent Vermonter votes Alden would have finished behind Buckley (the presence of a Liberty Union candidate caused the lack of a majority).
In the general election, the Democratic candidate, John Alden, fell 2,854 votes short of a majority (48.4%). T. Garry Buckley, the Republican candidate, received 47.6%, and John Franco of the Liberty Union Party received 4%.
The incumbent lieutenant governor, Brian D. Burns, had not sought re-election (he had unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor), though he continued to preside over the senate until his successor was chosen and took the oath of office.
The senate debated whether the President of the Senate (Lieutenant Governor Burns) "has a casting vote to break a tie involving the election of the new Lieutenant Governor..." The issue was hotly debated. On January 6, 1977 the committee chair (Burns) overruled an opinion of the temporary senate rules committee that the presiding officer of the joint assembly (the lieutenant governor) had no such casting vote. President pro tempore Robert Bloomer appealed the chair's ruling. The senate voted to uphold the chair's ruling (see Journal of the Senate of the State of Vermont, 1977, p. 13).
On January 12th Senator Bloomer again appealed the ruling. This time his appeal was sustained, leaving the presiding officer without a casting vote in the event the joint assembly tied in its election of the lieutenant governor (see Journal of the Senate of the State of Vermont, 1977, p. 44).
The General Assembly then met in joint assembly with 178 of a possible 180 members present and voting. Ninety votes (a majority) were necessary for election. Buckley received 90 votes on the first ballot, with Alden receiving 87 and John Franco, one. The legislators may have been influenced by rumors that Alden was confronting legal problems; problems that became public only after the General Assembly elected Buckley.
A note on whether the presiding officer of the joint assembly has a casting vote. In 1969 the joint assembly, after multiple ballotings for trustees to the University of Vermont, deadlocked 84 to 84 (168 members present and voting) between John T. Gray and Francis R. Peisch. Eighty-five votes were necessary for election. Lieutenant Governor Tom Hayes, presiding over the joint assembly, cast his vote for Francis Piesch, who was declared the winner (see Journal of the Senate of the State of Vermont, 1969, p. 662).
Opposition to the majority requirement. There have been proposals of amendment to the Constitution that would have changed the majority requirement.
Proponents of instant run-off voting have offered bills providing mechanisms for achieving a majority by having voters cast ballots indicating first, second and third choices for an office. Three such bills were offered in the 2001-2002 legislative session:
This page was last updated on: 2012-03-26.