Gray, Pearce Commit to Supporting Popular Vote Winners

Two of the major party candidates running for Vermont’s top offices (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Treasurer) have pledged to support the person who wins the most votes in their race. Incumbent State Treasurer Beth Pearce (D) has signed the pledge, as has Democrat Molly Gray, who is running for the open seat for lieutenant governor.

The other major party candidates running for Vermont’s top offices have failed to commit to supporting the candidate with the most votes, once all the ballots have been counted.

“President Trump is actively working to suppress voter turnout. He’s considering declaring victory before all votes are counted, and he has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses,” said Paul Burns, executive director of VPIRG. “But in Vermont, we generally expect politicians to concede to the winner if they lose. Respecting the will of the voters is something everyone should be able to get behind.”

Under Vermont’s Constitution, if no candidate for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, or Treasurer wins a majority of votes cast, the General Assembly of the Legislature chooses the winner. This has happened approximately 70 times since 1778. In almost every case, legislators have chosen the candidate who received the most votes. But there have been several instances where they chose one of the other top three finishers.

“Finishing second in an election does not make you the winner, but that’s not a lesson that every candidate has learned,” said Burns.

Many observers expect the race for lieutenant governor race to be close this year. Molly Gray’s Republican opponent, Scott Milne, has not signed the pledge. In 2014, Milne took second place in the race for governor, but he refused to concede defeat. Instead he spent weeks asking legislators to put aside the will of the voters and install him as governor. He failed in his effort, but nearly 70 legislators did vote to make him governor despite his losing the race.  

In the race for governor, neither incumbent Gov. Phil Scott nor his Democratic challenger, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, signed the pledge. Independent Wayne Billado did sign the pledge.

Independent Alex Wright joined incumbent Democrat Beth Pearce in signing the pledge in the race for Treasurer. Republican challenger Carolyn Branagan has not signed the pledge.

“With all the threats to democracy that Americans are experiencing this year, we should at least be able to count on every candidate for high office in Vermont to support the idea that every ballot must be counted and the winner of the race is the person who has the most votes,” said Burns.

VPIRG has been working on democracy, consumer protection and environmental advocacy in Vermont for nearly fifty years. The organization believes that until Vermont adopts the means of ensuring majority winners in elections, as would be the case with a ranked choice voting system, then the candidate with a plurality of votes should be declared the winner.