On Thursday Vermont’s governor used his veto pen to strike down drug decriminalization through a proposed Drug Use Standards Advisory Board, but he allowed ranked choice voting in Burlington City Council elections.
Hard drugs will stay illegal
H.505 is titled “An act relating to the creation of the Drug Use Standards Advisory Board within the Vermont Sentencing Commission.” The purpose of the bill is “to reclassify the penalties for unlawfully possessing, dispensing, and selling regulated drugs; to combine the criminal penalties for dispensing or selling heroin, fentanyl, or a combination of heroin and fentanyl.”
Gov. Phil Scott said no way to the measure, and offered a vigorous defense of his veto.
“This bill creates a Drug Use Standards Advisory Board with a stated goal to identify a path to effectively legalize personal possession and use of dangerous and highly addictive drugs,” Scott wrote in his letter to the General Assembly.
He added: “It places no limits on which drugs can be contemplated for legalization or the amounts, and while rightly saying we need to view substance abuse as a public health matter — a point where I agree — it includes absolutely no recognition of the often-disastrous health and safety impacts of using drugs like fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, and more. Nor does it acknowledge the role of enforcement in tracking down and stopping the dealers who seek to poison Vermonters — including children — for profit.”
According to the governor, the current policies for fighting drug addiction are sufficient and have received significant funding this year.
“This year, I proposed, and the Legislature passed, significant investments in these areas because this continues to be a priority issue, especially as we experience an alarming increase in the number of overdose deaths and deaths by suicide,” he wrote.
Scott said Vermont has “made progress in treating drug and alcohol addiction as an illness, de-stigmatizing, expanding treatment, and instituting recovery systems that enable individuals to rebuild their lives.”
He said while he agrees many nonviolent drug-related offenses may be dealt with outside the prison system, law enforcement must not be eliminated as one tool for keeping Vermonters safe.
“I agree that the criminal justice system cannot, and should not, be the only tool in this work – and in Vermont, it is not,” Scott wrote. “However, we cannot completely abandon reasonable regulation and law enforcement as a tool.”
Controversial ‘ranked-choice’ voting to be allowed in Burlington
A bill Scott let become law without his signature is H.744, relating to ranked-choice voting in Burlington City Council elections.
With ranked-choice voting, if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, a ranking system occurs in which candidates with fewest votes drop out of the mix and those votes get redistributed and re-tallied to a voter’s second-choice candidate to see if someone wins the majority. The system has been criticized as convoluted and potentially undermining voter intent.
While Burlington voters rejected ranked-choice voting as recently as 10 years ago, two-thirds of Burlington voters approved the concept for city council elections in March 2021. The Vermont Legislature then passed the proposed charter change during this year’s legislative session.
Scott said he was allowing the measure to become law because Burlington voters wanted it, and because it was limited in scope.
“I’m allowing it to move forward because its scope is limited to the method of elections of the Burlington City Council,” Scott wrote in his letter to the General Assembly. “Ten years ago, Burlington voters rejected a similar instant runoff election system because it yielded flawed results. Nevertheless, the political winds have shifted and once again Burlington voters, for now, favor ranked choice voting.”
According to an MIT report from March of 2021, the overall impact of ranked-choice voting in Maine since 2018 has been generally negative.
“The findings of the experiment were stark. I found that RCV produced significantly lower levels of voter confidence, voter satisfaction, and ease of use,” wrote Jesse Clark, a graduate researcher at the MIT Election Lab. “It also increased the perception that the voting process was slanted against the respondent’s party. Similarly, I found that it increased the amount of time it took to vote by nearly 12 seconds per candidate than voting using a plurality ballot.”
The governor stopped short of any further endorsement of ranked-choice voting, and he set a line politically on any further ambitions for the idea.
“While H.744 will become law, it will be without my signature. I want to be clear, I am opposed to a statewide system of ranked choice voting,” Scott wrote. “I believe one person should get one vote, and candidates who get the most votes should win elections.”