Commentary in VTDIGGER, Friday, August 7th, 2020

In deciding how to vote in our August 11th primary election, many of us are faced with a dilemma.

It’s due to our widespread use of plurality voting in which the candidate or candidates with the highest vote totals, but not necessarily a majority of voter support, go on to the general election in November.

Do I vote for the candidate or candidates I like best, or should I narrow my option(s) to choose among only the candidate(s) I believe are most likely to be elected, so I don’t waste my vote? Our present way of voting in Vermont can and likely often does result in our electing candidates that a majority of us would not necessarily support, and this increases the political division and partisanship we see in our American politics today.

Unless choosing among only one of two candidates, we face this dilemma every time we vote, whether in the primary or general election for electing our US President and Vice President, US Senators and Representative, our Governor and all other state and local representatives. If I vote for my first choice, will I actually help elect my worst choice?

This dilemma applies across all parties in all elections. However, this year’s Democratic primary ballot in the Chittenden District to select among 13 candidates to fill 6 Vermont Senate seats provides an extreme example. Four current Senators are up for re-election and thus are better known to many voters. But there are many potentially well qualified alternatives in the race. If 100 percent of votes were equally divided among all 13, each candidate would receive less than 8 percent of the vote. This hardly indicates that a majority of voters would support any particular candidate. When the actual votes are counted, the 6 with the highest number of votes will go on to the general election in November. However, with so many candidates, it’s highly unlikely that any of the six will obtain a 50% majority of the vote. Most of the six winners will be nowhere near 50%.

Whether locally, statewide or nationally, our present plurality-based voting system works in ways that undermine, rather than strengthen, our democracy. It helps to elect leaders with a passionate but minority base of support, that a majority of voters might never approve of. As voter interest and participation drops in elections, it makes it easier for the passionate minority to win. It also provides incentive for the passionate minority to “game” the system to their advantage by, for example, limiting voter turnout by others who might vote differently.

This system of electing our representatives with a plurality rather than a majority of votes is one, though not the only, big reason our country is so ideologically divided and our federal political system has become so widely viewed as dysfunctional. It doesn’t have to be this way.

We can and should instead strengthen our democracy by adopting a method of voting that ensures that each of the candidates we ultimately select, regardless of party or ideology, has a majority of all voters in support. This can easily be done in an election by using ranked choice voting. This popular electoral system allows voters to rank candidates by preference, meaning they can submit ballots that list not only their first-choice candidate for a position, but also their second, third and so on.

The candidate with the majority (more than 50%) of first-choice votes wins outright. If no candidate gets a majority of first-choice votes, then it triggers a new counting process. The candidate who did the worst is eliminated, and that candidate’s voters’ ballots are redistributed to their second-choice pick. In other words, if you ranked a losing candidate as your first choice, and the candidate is eliminated, then your vote still counts: it just moves to your second-choice candidate. That process continues until there is a candidate who has the majority of votes.

At a time of great national political division and discord, it’s time to strengthen our democracy in a wide variety of ways to better serve our broad public interests. Adopting ranked choice voting is an important first step.

Amend VT Constitution to Select VT Representatives by Majority Vote

Vermont Public Radio Commentary

INTRO:  Commentator Rick Hubbard considers the question: If we amend our Vermont State Constitution so we, not the legislature, elect our next governor; should we elect with only a plurality, or with a majority of voters in support?



The practice of allowing our legislature, rather than Vermont voters, to resolve an inconclusive gubernatorial election is a vestige of power originally reserved to our Legislature, then largely white, male property owners, when our state was formed. I think it’s time to amend our State Constitution to always have Vermont voters complete the process.

But if we do this, we’ll have to choose whether to ensure that our next governor is backed by at least half of all voters casting ballots, a majority – or whether it’s better to select whichever candidate gets the most votes, a plurality?

We’ll have to decide which approach best strengthens our political process to serve the interests of all Vermonters?

We normally have multiple candidates running for governor, and this past November we had seven. Typically, with votes split among multiple candidates, if becomes difficult for any one candidate to secure a majority of votes on a first ballot.

Our recent November election provides a good example of this. Continue reading

Hiking Mt. Mansfield

Vermont Public Radio Commentary

INTRO: For 25 years, commentator Rick Hubbard has spent most Tuesday mornings hiking Mt. Mansfield with a group of friends.


Shortly before 7am most Tuesday mornings, my life-partner Sally and I meet a small group of friends in the parking lot at the base of Stowe Mountain Resort.

We come to hike Mt. Mansfield, as many of us have been regularly doing for more than 25 years. Most Tuesdays, our goal is the top of the quad ski lift, high on the mountain.

Throughout the year we experience all kinds of weather, and dress accordingly. At various times in winter we climb with Micro-spikes, or snowshoes, or skis with climbing skins. But on warm and sunny days in the late summer or fall, we climb in trail shoes or hiking boots.

Often we head diagonally up along the Crossover trail at a conversational pace, passing several of Stowe’s famous downhill runs. But when we get to the North Slope trail, conversation stops and it gets more serious. Each of us then heads uphill as rapidly as we can, and slowly we drift further apart according to our various abilities.

At the top, we regroup, snap a picture, and head down together, when it’s time for conversation again.

I’m 72 now and most of us are in our 60’s or 70’s. We’re all clearly in, or approaching, what we might call “use it or lose it territory” and I’m sure we all share the same preference to keep our fitness up as long as we can. Continue reading

Independence Day – How Are We Doing

Vermont Public Radio Commentary

INTRO: As our Independence Day holiday approaches, commentator Rick Hubbard suggests we ask ourselves an important question related to the founding of our country, and then think about its implications.

As we the people gather together in remembrance this Fourth of July, it’s a good time to ask ourselves this simple question: How well are my individual interests, and our collective interests, being represented today by our Washington politicians?

It’s an important question, because the issue of improper representation is the main reason we declared our independence from Great Britain in 1776, fought a war, and founded our country. The original settlers of America had come to feel that, in levying taxes on the colonists, King George the 3rd was representing his own interests, and those of his wealthy trading company backers, without properly considering the interests of American colonists.

So when our founders gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft our original Constitution, they were very sensitive to this issue of improper representation.

During their debate, this question emerged. What if we set up a new form of government and, at some future time, a majority of the people feel it’s happening again, and Congress won’t fix it?

Many now argue that time has arrived.

There’s ample documentation that outcomes of legislation, regulations, and policy are often tipped in favor of the interests of wealthy contributors. The minority party in Congress often engages in tactics that promote gridlock in order to hopefully become the majority party, rather than to actually resolve issues important to American citizens. Continue reading

Gubernatorial Candidates Need to Debate Healthcare

Vermont Public Radio Commentary

INTRO: Commentator Rick Hubbard thinks our gubernatorial candidates should begin answering a health care question that Vermont voters are asking.


A few weeks ago, Vermont Public Television and the Times Argus hosted a Barre Opera House debate among three of our gubernatorial candidates; Jim Douglas, Doug Racine and Con Hogan.

A South Burlington woman was selected from the audience to ask her question. She first made this statement.

“The recently issued Lewin report on health care delivery in Vermont stated that if all monies now spent on health care were collected and disbursed by a single entity, all Vermonters could receive comprehensive health care privately provided by doctors at an annual savings of over $100 million dollars. Our current approach does not insure all Vermonters and has resulted in huge administrative cost increases.”

Then she asked each candidate: “Would you encourage a debate about which is the better delivery approach?”

None of the three gubernatorial candidates answered her question!

Each simply explained their views on health care.

If they did actually debate alternatives, here are some questions they ought to answer.