Vt. enacts ‘sore loser law’ for independent bids

Tuesday June 15, 2010

MONTPELIER (AP) -- When lawmakers voted to approve a change in the date for the state’s primary elections, they did more than move it back to Aug. 24.

As part of the bill, they enacted what’s commonly known as a "sore loser law,’ barring candidates who lose in a primary from deciding then to run under a different banner in the November general election.

In years past, candidates who lost in the primary and wanted to try again as independents in the general election could do so by filing with the Vermont Secretary of State’s office within three days of the primary.

But the new law requires them and others wanting to run as independents or minor-party candidates to file when other candidates do, which is by 5 p.m. Thursday.

"What I have a problem with is that they made that change in the middle of the election (year)," said Daniel Freilich, a Democrat running against U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. "It should’ve gone into effect after the election," he said Tuesday.

Freilich, of Wilmington, has filed to run as a Democrat in the Aug. 24 primary and an independent in the Nov. 2 general election.

The changes to Vermont election law were made by the Legislature in response to the federal Military and Overseas Voter Act, which requires states to provide 45 days before a general election for ballots to be sent to overseas voters and returned in time to be counted.

Vermont’s election calendar called for this year’s primary elections to be held Sept. 14. But supporters of the change said that date wouldn’t allow enough time to get ballots printed and into the hands of overseas voters after the primary.

So lawmakers approved legislation changing the date, and the measure became law when Republican Gov. Jim Douglas -- who opposed it -- balked at vetoing it.

And some think it’s a good idea.

"I think it’s a pretty reasonable rule," said Tony Gierzynski, associate professor of political science at the University of Vermont. "Someone who decides to run as an independent may think they still have appeal to the broader general election audience. But it causes problems by splitting the vote up more. It’s good for the parties to have that law in there. It’s better for the parties and better for the electorate."

Gierzynski says someone who elects to run in a primary typically share the party’s stance on issues. By running again after losing in the primary, he or she can dilute the ballot box support and accidentally help an opposing party candidate win, he said.

The change in filing requirements got little attention when lawmakers were weighing the measure, since most of the attention was devoted to the primary date change. Douglas opposed it as a political ploy aimed at helping Democrats -- five of whom are seeking the governor’s office -- regroup after the primary to do battle in the fall campaign.

Now, it’s getting more notice.

Freilich, a physician hoping to upend the 35-year incumbent Leahy, says he isn’t sure whether he will run in November if he loses in August. He said he plans to beat Leahy in the primary, but wants to preserve his right to run later just in case.

"It does give us options," he said Tuesday. "The deck is so stacked against a challenger going against (an incumbent with) 35 years. Even this option was removed by the changing of the signatures date. So we just decided, to provide more flexibility and agility, to file as independent."

Leahy campaign spokeswoman Carolyn Dwyer had a different take.

"I don’t think our founding fathers envisioned elections as double-elimination tournaments," she said.

"Our opponent has called himself a progressive Democrat who is running as an independent while encouraging conservative Republicans to vote for him in the Democratic primary. This does suggest some confusion on his part and perhaps a hint of political expediency."


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