The statewide canvassing committee met Wednesday to certify November's election results, and the tally shows that Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin did receive the most votes, over 2,400 more than Republican challenger Scott Milne.
Milne has said he will not seek a recount. But the final decision will be made by the legislature in January, because no candidate in the race for governor received at least 50 percent of the vote. Milne has not said yet if he will try to ultimately win the race by asking lawmakers to vote for him when they cast their secret ballots.
Eric Davis, professor emeritus of Political Science at Middlebury College, said he doesn't believe Milne will prevail if he takes the case to the legislature. It all comes down to the math.
"There are only 62 Republicans in the legislature, and you need 91, a majority of the votes in the House and Senate, to win. I don't see Milne picking up close to 30 votes from Democrats, Progressives and independents," Davis explained.
"Milne has to make the argument that even though he received fewer votes for Shumlin, more people in a sense want him to be governor. In effect, what Milne would be arguing to legislators is a sort of instant runoff type thing, that even though Shumlin has a plurality of the votes, when it you add together all of the votes for Milne, [Libertarian] Dan Feliciano, and all of the other candidates it comes to more than Shumlin, so that indicated that voters want someone other than Shumlin." Davis said that's a difficult argument to make, because it's impossible to know who those voters would have picked in second place.
The requirement that the Legislature pick the governor if no candidate gets a plurality dates back to 1777, before Vermont even became a state. At that time, Vermont had a one house legislature and a council, who would pick the governor together. Davis said the political environment was very different at the time, with no political parties back then, and there wasn't the same expectation of universal suffrage.
"What we have in the Vermont Constitution today is a more than two-century old provision which really reflects early modern old understandings of republican government rather than contemporary understandings of democracy," Davis said.
There are also questions about the transition to a new governor, a process that typically begins after an election. If the decision is made in January that could put a new governor behind. But that doesn't appear to be the case in this election. On Wednesday, Shumlin announced staff changes and addressed budget revenue issues.
"Milne gives no indication that he's preparing for a transition. He hasn't said anything or given any indication that he's talking to anybody about potential jobs in his administration. He's not talking details about the state budget or proposals he would present to the legislature," Davis said.
However the gubernatorial race turns out, we are just two years away from the next one. Davis said if Shumlin prevails, and wants to keep his spot the next time around, has to start making his turnaround case to the voters soon. "I believe the crucial event will be his inaugural address which will be given in the second week of January, where he lays out his legislative programs for the next two years," Davis said.