Election measure in debate this week
By DARREN M. ALLEN Vermont Press Bureau | March 13,2006
MONTPELIER After a three-month delay, the full House this week is expected to debate whether Vermont should become the fourth state to allow voters to register on Election Day.
The measure coming up for debate Thursday was one of the first items on the House's agenda when it reconvened this year, but legislative leaders bowed to pressure from town clerks. The clerks were concerned that approving same-day voter registration before they had a chance to see how Vermont's statewide voter checklist worked would be irresponsible and overwhelming.
Under the measure, which has already received Senate backing, voters in Vermont would be able to register and vote on the same day.
The bill has the backing of the state's Democratic and Progressive parties, and the Deb Markowitz, the secretary of state and a Democrat. They say it would improve voter turnout and make it easier for Vermonters to participate in elections.
Although no one is saying it out loud yet, some lawmakers suggested that debate on the bill might be an appropriate time to bring up the issue of instant runoff voting. They will point to the nearly flawless mayoral election last week in Burlington, in which Rep. Robert Kiss, P-Burlington, won the city's top job.
Democrats have been warming to the idea of increasing the use of instant runoff voting Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean publicly noted his excitement for voting in last week's contest but that was before their candidate lost to Kiss. Progressive lawmakers, meanwhile, promised to keep the concept alive on a statewide level.
The way Vermonters send lawmakers to Montpelier is not the only thing on their minds this week. Fresh off a Town Meeting break in which voters in more than 130 towns told them not to raid the $1.3 billion education fund, lawmakers are expected to hear nearly a week of testimony on various ways to tweak the way education is funded.
The House Ways and Means Committee has a week full of testimony scheduled on the issue, and Gov. James Douglas has signaled that he wants some form of education tax reform on his desk before the biennium ends.
Funding for all the operations of state government also will take center stage this week as the House Appropriations Committee begins a weeklong examination of the so-called big bill. The appropriations bill is the only one that has to pass before lawmakers go home, and it first needs to move from the House to the Senate.
Also on the financial agenda is the House's health care bill, which moved over to the Senate before Town Meeting break. The Senate Finance Committee has two days of testimony scheduled on the measure, which would increase the cigarette tax and tap more than $100 million worth of national tobacco settlement payments to cover uninsured Vermonters and provide greater access to health care.
The governor has said he is opposed to the House's approach to financing its package, but some administration officials behind the scenes last week hinted that the governor could be willing to compromise with lawmakers because he is said to really want a comprehensive health care law in place.
Contact Darren Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org