The House Government Operations Committee took up a draft elections bill on Tuesday that would, among other things, ban fusion candidates.
Paul Dame (Chairman, Vermont Republican Party) was the first to testify on the bill. He is comfortable with the so-called “sore loser” provision, saying that candidates should be required to “pick a lane” at the outset of a campaign. Sore loser laws typically prevent candidates who lose in a primary from switching party affiliation in order to run in a general election.
He shared concerns about the inclusion of demographic information in candidate fillings because of doxing and opposition researchers. He also came out in favor of dual nominations (fusion candidates), saying “we want to give the voter the maximum amount of information on the ballot as possible.” He believes and these candidates are attractive to Vermonters and their values.
Dame also prefers to keep the write-in process as it is, he sees these votes as “the most intentional votes you can possibly make.” However, he also added that Vermont elections are so open that we “may have to come back to the middle.” He wants parties to have denote which candidates legitimately represent the Party and “perhaps approved candidates somehow.” He provided an example where a candidate might be a convicted felon and a party has not recourse to prevent them from running under their party label.
He also mentioned the ongoing need to provide for more accurate voter role through frequent purges. Because of same day registration now we have no need for “hedging against removals” and we should be adjusting more readily.
Representative Nugent (a former Justice of the Peace) asked if same day registration required a Vermont license # and later the Town Clerk would use that to verify. Dame said there is no such mechanism and even if there was the ballot would already have been counted at that point.
Chairman McCarthy questioned his position on the sore loser provision, asking if he was “staying with” the position that dual nominations is not a contradiction.
Next up was Josh Wronski (Executive Director, Vermont Progressive Party).
Several sections they had no strong feelings about, but he led with statistics about 2022 fusion candidates: there were a total of 69 statewide; 8 were P/D, 10 were D/P, 15 were D/R, 30 were R/D and 5 were R/L. Of the 69, all but 9 succeeded in winning office (including two statewide).
He stated that “in general we are very opposed to eliminate the candidate’s ability to run with multiple party labels.” He agrees with Dame that the issue of giving voters more information is most important, “perhaps it says you are a bridge builder,” he suggested. He followed by saying that it doesn’t feel like something that is a problem we should be looking to address.
They also opposed the sore loser provision, questioning how often this happens in Vermont. Representative Mrowicki chimed in, saying it happened “against him”.
While the Progressive Party discourages this practice in their candidates, Vermont has a huge “problem” with 1/3 of all races being “uncontested” and this has the potential to make these situations more likely.
The final piece Wronski was not in favor of was eliminating the campaign finance limits by candidates to donate to their own parties. He believes there are ways for candidates to already support their own campaigns (through loans, etc.) and he feels Vermonters want to get more transparency and less money into politics.
He added final remarks supporting Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) and publicly financed elections as well as a universal primary system, which he believes is a model worth exploring.
Representative Hooper asked about the universal primary model. It basically has all candidates on the same ballot with a party label and top two (in a single seat district) then appear on the general election. Possible outcomes include two of only one party survives…
NOTE: California and Washington State use this system.
Representative Birong asked about cross-party voting in the primaries, pointing to the Sarah George election in Chittenden County or the Governor’s primary.
Wronski responded these examples may be true but occur across the aisle as well. It is an open primary and that is part of the Vermont political tradition and, he believes, a very good thing.
Paul Burns (Executive Director, VPIRG) was up next. They support requiring additional information from candidates around demographics. As well as the write-in candidate provisions.
While they have not taken a stance on everything in the bill, the two sections they oppose are dealing with the fusion candidates and lifting the cap on self-donations for candidates.
“We see no value on denying voters seeing these fusions that tell them something about the candidates as well as the parties,” said Burns. He gave the example of his father running as a county official in New York. He ran as a Democrat and was cross-endorsed as a Conservative Party candidate and many felt comfortable voting for him “as a Conservative” but would never do so under the Democrat listing. He often ran and won with these cross-nominated ballots.
They also oppose lifting the cap on donations from candidates to their own campaigns, saying that we “are not benefitted by allowing for unlimited contributions from any source,” and these tend have a corrupting influence over the process.
McCarthy reasoned that this provision of the bill in a post-Citizens United world is because it freely allows the spending but is transparent. There are lots of ways a candidate can get the money into a campaign, but he wants transparency.
Burns agreed that transparency is one way to go but PIRGs disagree and still stand on spending limits as a way to achieve fairness and transparency, even post-Citizens.
At the end of his testimony, Burns promoted publicly financed elections and Ranked-choice voting. He suggested that this could be paired with a final four or final five primary system.
Hooper asked how long it would take to reasonably adopt RCV across the board. Burns thought the 2024 Presidential Primary was possible with lots of educational efforts, after that perhaps also the next (2026) for congressional races.