New Reps call for Constitutional Amendment

Thursday, December 30, 2010


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Two state representatives-elect are calling for a constitutional amendment that would require run-off elections for candidates receiving less than 50 percent of the vote. The proposal is generating mixed response at the State House.

Incoming Republicans Mike Chippendale and Patricia Morgan say a fractured electorate will lead to more candidates taking office with support from less than half of the state’s voters. The pair cite Governor-elect Lincoln Chafee as an example, who received just 36 percent of the vote in November’s four-way race. 

But critics say now isn’t the time to alter the voting system and questioned the timing of the two Republicans’ proposal. Supporters meanwhile, argue the state is desperately in need of change following the past election season.

O’Grady says he’s hesitant

Freshly elected state representative Jeremiah O’Grady in District 46 won a close race against incumbent Mary Ann Shallcross-Smith in September’s primary and defeated three challengers plus a write-in campaign from Shallcross-Smith in the general election. The progressive Democrat would have been forced to compete in a run-off under his new colleagues’ proposal.

O’Grady said he would need to read the specific proposals, but “I've seen no evidence to suggest that there is a compelling need to reform our current electoral system. Absent a compelling need, I would be hesitant to endorse structural change in this area.”

The best interest of the state

Another concern expressed by opponents is that by asking the public to vote in potentially two extra elections, overall turnout will plummet. But Doreen Costa, who became the face of the Rhode Island Tea Party this year, said she believes Rhode Islanders would still head to the polls.

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“I think the people of Rhode Island would do what is in the best interest for the state,” Costa said.
“I honestly don't think we would have to head to the polls four times but if so, the voters would do the right thing. I feel that we should not have a Gov. that only got 35% of the votes no matter who it is. I had made this very public that I supported John Robitaille and even if [he] won with 35%, I still would support a run-off election.”

Instant run-offs could be the answer

Chris Blazejewski, who easily won David Segal’s vacant seat in District 2, has an idea that could provide for some middle ground at the state house. The representative-elect said he would support instant run-offs because they’re a more cost-effective solution than the proposal set forth by Chippendale and Morgan.

“I’m happy to see that my colleagues on the right are serious about election reform,” Blazejewski said. “It is important that we ensure that all Rhode Islanders can participate in fair elections and have their voices heard. What we need to be talking about, however, is instant runoff voting, which saves taxpayer dollars by eliminating the need to finance extra elections in these tough economic times.

Instant run-offs ask voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If no one receives a 50 percent majority, the name with the fewest votes is removed from the ballot and all of his votes go to the next ranked candidate.
“Instant runoff voting should be discussed in the broader context of reforming our electoral and campaign finance systems, especially in the wake of the disastrous U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United,” Blazejewski said.





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