Vermont lawmakers are starting to talk about having the state switch to a voting system that Maine started using last year. It’s ranked choice voting, and it’s also often called instant runoff voting.
Maine is the only U.S. state that uses ranked choice for state and federal elections. However, the concept isn’t entirely unfamiliar in Vermont. Twice in the recent past, Burlington has elected its mayor this way.
You rank candidates on your ballot in order of preference. If someone gets a majority of the first-choice votes, that candidate wins.
If no one does, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. All voters who ranked that person first will have their votes go to their second choice instead.
This continues with additional candidates being eliminated until one candidate has more than 50% of the vote. Supporters say ranked choice allows you to vote for your hopes instead of your fears.
“Voters have become increasingly frustrated with the polarization and the partisanship and gridlock, especially in Washington, but it stll trickles down to our state capitals, too,” Committee For Ranked Choice Voting campaign manager Kyle Bailey said.
Bailey was the key organizer of Maine’s successful 2016 ballot question to switch all state and federal elections, other than President, to this method. Sponsors of a Vermont House bill that would do the same thing invited him to speak at the State House Thursday night.
“I believe that the tenor of our politics nationally — and we’re seeing it in Vermont — is really deteriorating to the point that we’re starting to lose faith in each other to govern ourselves,” Rep. Laura Sibilia said. She thinks ranked choice voting will go a long way toward reversing that deterioration.
Burlington used ranked choice voting in its 2006 and 2009 mayoral elections. In 2009, current City Council President Kurt Wright received the most first-choice votes for mayor but lost the election to incumbent Bob Kiss. The following year, Queen City voters repealed the ranked choice system.
“We think that the voters of Burlington had a system that worked,” Rep. Sibilia said. “It actually did work the way that it’s supposed to. What happened is, folks ended up with a candidate that they didn’t like.”
Bailey acknowledges that ranked choice isn’t a perfect solution, “but it’s something we can do to put more power in the hands of voters, and to make elections about the interests of voters and not parties, PACs and politicians,” he said.
In 2008, then-Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas vetoed a bill passed by lawmakers that would have set up ranked choice voting for the Green Mountain State’s U.S. House and U.S. Senate seats.