Burlington council puts ranked choice voting on November ballot 

Voters inside the Fletcher Free Library
Voters inside the Fletcher Free Library, the polling place for Burlington’s Ward 8. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

The Burlington City Council voted Monday to put ranked choice voting for municipal elections on the ballot in November, 10 years after the city voted to move away from the system. 

The city had ranked-choice voting in place from 2006 to 2010 for mayoral elections, but the city narrowly voted against the system after the contentious 2009 mayoral election. 

The council voted 6-5 to put a question on the ballot in November that asks voters if the city should reinstitute ranked choice voting for mayoral, City Council and school commissioner elections. The council’s Democratic councilors opposed the effort.

In the ranked choice voting system, voters rank candidates in order of preference, and if no candidate receives a majority of votes, the least-popular candidate is eliminated. Votes for that candidate are redistributed to the voter’s second choice, until one candidate receives a majority of the votes.  

In 2009, Republican Kurt Wright received the highest percentage of first-place votes cast, but lost after Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss accumulated more second-place votes when other candidates were eliminated. 

Proponents of the system argue that instant runoff voting better represents the will of the people and encourages more candidates to run for office. 

If voters approve the charter change in November, it will need approval from the Legislature before going into effect. 

Councilor Jane Stromberg, P-Ward 8, said that the system is growing in popularity across the country, and that 10 years after its repeal city voters should be allowed to reconsider.   

“The ranked choice voting system we have before us tonight is a dramatic improvement from our current plurality system, which allows a candidate to be elected with only 40% of the vote,” she said. 

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Councilor Jack Hanson, P-East District, said that research has shown that ranked choice voting has increased participation in local elections. Hanson cited a study that showed an increase in the diversity of candidates and the percentage of people of color who won elections under ranked choice voting.  

“We want voters to become more regular voters, to engage in all elections and to increase turnout,” he said. “Having this higher-turnout election in November, for people to weigh in and bring people more into this local process, I think is a good thing.” 

Councilor Chip Mason, D-Ward 5, said that he opposed ranked choice voting as he believed it had not worked in Burlington

“My experience was that it did not improve campaigns, it necessitated vanilla candidates, and voter confusion,” he said. “While I appreciate the work that has been done by proponents to look at studies in San Francisco and Minneapolis … We can look back at our own experiment, and what I would say is the perverse outcome that ranked voting generated in the ‘09 election.”    

Councilor Franklin Paulino, D-North District, said that he thought ranked choice voting was a solution in search of a problem. He said the city should focus on other ways of encouraging voter participation. 

“I am not convinced that we have a problem that we need to fix,” he said. “I’m hearing there’s this new, different, innovative way, let’s just try it. But it’s our voting system, we can’t just try it.” 

The council also voted unanimously to paint a Black Lives Matter street mural on Main Street, likely between South Winooski Avenue and Church Street. The council invited community members to help create the mural on July 19 at 2 p.m. 

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Aidan Quigley

About Aidan

Aidan Quigley is VTDigger's Burlington and Chittenden County reporter. He most recently was a business intern at the Dallas Morning News and has also interned for Newsweek, Politico, the Christian Science Monitor and the Republican-American newspaper in Waterbury, Connecticut. He is a 2018 graduate of Ithaca College, where he served as the editor-in-chief of The Ithacan, the student newspaper. He is a native of Trumbull, Connecticut.

Email: [email protected]

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