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Adrian: Bullet Voting


Sometimes less is more. This primary season, for those of us living in multi-seat districts, checking the box for just one candidate might make the most sense.

By exercising the right not to vote for multiple choices, and just voting for one person in a district with more than one seat, we would in fact mathematically increase the chances for our top choice to win.

In the upcoming primaries, the Washington Senate District has six people running for three seats; the Chittenden Senate District has nine people running for six. And in any multi-seat district, instructions on the ballot will direct voters to select “not more than” the total number of district seats. But there will be no instructions about voting for fewer than the total number of seats available.

This leaves voters to wonder what happens if, say, they check the box for only one person in a two, three or six person district and leave the rest of the ballot blank. It’s called “bullet voting” and it allows the voter to focus on the candidate they really want to win.

It’s a voting strategy that’s especially effective in a primary where the voter might like the basic platforms of everyone running, but other more personal characteristics might push one or two candidates to the top of the voter’s preference list.

In Vermont there are 12 Senate Districts, three of which are single seat districts. The rest are comprised of two or three senators, with the exception of Chittenden County – which has six and is actually the largest in the nation.

In the Vermont House there are more than 36 two-seat districts. And while it’s possible that these multi-seat districts pass constitutional muster, I think a solid case can be made that they should be eliminated for the sake of simple equity and fairness.

Running in a district with more than one seat is much harder than running in a single seat district, and this by nature favors the incumbent. Plus candidates in multiple districts have to reach more voters – this increasing the cost of campaigning, sometimes by a factor of two, three or even six. And of course, this doesn’t even begin to address the question of how to become well-educated about every candidate running in a multi-seat district.

Nobody ever said Democracy was easy, but it shouldn’t have to be overly complicated either.