BURLINGTON, Vt. – With just over five weeks to go until Town Meeting Day, one ballot item in Burlington has a former Vermont governor coming out to show his support.
Ranked-choice voting has a complicated history in the Queen City – voters approved it in 2005 and then repealed it in 2010 by 303 votes. In recent years, a Progressive shift on the Burlington City Council has brought concerted efforts to put the question to voters again. On Town Meeting Day, they’ll have a chance to weigh in.
This time around, there appears to be growing bipartisan support. Notably, Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean (D) has lent his voice to the cause.
On Friday, he joined Councilor Zoraya Hightower (P), V-PIRG, the League of Women Voters and Rights and Democracy to launch the Better Ballot Burlington campaign.
“This gives an opportunity for the people who are not on the inside,” Dean said. “I think that’s important, we need to listen to people who have views that we might not have considered instead of the traditional ‘work your way up to the top of the party and then you get to run for something.”
The system allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-preference votes, an automatic runoff is triggered. The candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated, and their supporters’ second-choice votes are counted.
Voters decided to repeal ranked-choice voting after former Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss (P) was re-elected in 2009 despite Republican Kurt Wright receiving more first-preference votes.
Kiss won because he picked up more second-preference votes than Wright when Democratic candidate Andy Montroll was eliminated in the second round of runoffs.
Councilor Hightower believes ranked-choice voting will cut down on negative campaigning, as well as pave a path for more BIPOC candidates to seek local office.
“I think one of the biggest attributes to this is the unity and being able to say ‘Oh, I didn’t get my first pick, but I got my second pick,” Hightower said. “Having voters really wrestle with all of the candidates that they want to see.”
If passed, ranked-choice voting would go into effect in 2022. It would first need approval from the Vermont Legislature.
Last year, Mayor Miro Weinberger vetoed a push to include a question about ranked-choice voting on the November ballot. He supports letting voters decide on Town Meeting Day, but his personal view as a voter hasn’t change. He mentioned it’s a tough issue to grapple with, because a lot of people he respects have a different view of the pros and cons.
“I don’t think it was a system that worked well in Burlington elections,” Weinberger said. “It lead to campaigns being very hesitant to define distinctions between themselves on substance because of concern about alienating second or third votes of other candidates. I was a campaign chair of a mayoral candidate during that period. I just don’t think it worked well.”
Town Meeting Day is on March 2, and Burlington leaders are currently in the process of ensuring all voters will have the ability to send their ballot by mail.