- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Vermonters could be facing another holiday season not knowing for sure who their next governor will be.

Candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and treasurer are required under Vermont’s Constitution to garner more than 50 percent of the vote in the November election, or the race is decided by the Legislature when it convenes in January.

With seven candidates vying for the top state office this year, some are predicting it may be difficult for any one of them to surpass the 50-percent hurdle.

Twenty-three previous elections for governor have gone to the Legislature, which nearly always gives the election to the candidate who won the most votes, even if he or she was shy of the 50 percent mark, and even if he or she is of a party different from the legislative majority. There have been three exceptions, the last one in 1853.

Usually, the candidate who comes in second in the plurality vote concedes to the candidate who comes in first and declines to contest the election in the Legislature, allowing the plurality winner to set up a transition team and build an administration in November and December. This is what happened in 2010, when the current incumbent, Gov. Peter Shumlin, got 49.5 percent of the vote to 47.7 percent for the Republican, then-Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie.

The balance of the 2010 votes were scattered among the five other candidates. Each got less than 1 percent of the vote. Two tied for first among them with 0.8 percent each, one of them favoring marijuana legalization and the other calling for Vermont to secede from the United States.

Of this year’s seven candidates, two are challenging the liberal Democrat Shumlin from the right: Republican Scott Milne and Libertarian Dan Feliciano.

Eric Davis, a retired Middlebury College political science professor, predicted Shumlin will place first Nov. 4, but said it’s uncertain whether he’ll win a majority. If not, the Legislature, with strong Democratic majorities in both Houses, will elect him in January, Davis said.

“Then the question is what does it mean for Shumlin politically if he doesn’t get 50 percent on Election Day?” Davis asked.

With a low turnout expected in a midterm election without the White House or even a Vermont U.S. Senate seat at stake, Davis said Shumlin could end up winning with less than a quarter of registered voters casting ballots for him.

A sub-50 percent showing could reduce momentum behind Shumlin’s signature agenda item - a universal health care system covering all Vermonters, Davis said.

“Republicans could say there’s no mandate for a big change in Vermont’s health care (system),” Davis said. “I think they’d be justified in saying that.”

Shumlin’s campaign spokesman, Scott Coriell, would not comment directly on the possibility of no one getting 50 percent. Shumlin “is focused on engaging with Vermonters and asking for their vote on November 4th so we can continue to build on the progress we’ve made and ensure all Vermonters have the economic security and quality of life they deserve.”

Milne said he would concede the race if Shumlin won a plurality, and hoped Shumlin would do the same if the situation were reversed.

As for the Democratic majorities in the Legislature, Milne said, “If I’m ahead I expect the Legislature will honor the wishes of the people of Vermont.”

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