Ranked choice voting unlikely to appear on March ballot in Burlington

Local News

BURLINGTON, Vt. – An effort to bring back ranked choice voting in Burlington hit a snag on Monday as the City Council committee assigned to discuss it adjourned their meeting before doing so.

A resolution asking the Charter Change Committee to consider adding a ranked choice voting question to the March 2020 ballot passed city council in a 9-3 vote last week. All charter change amendments must return to city council by their December 16 meeting, and since the committee didn’t get to it, it’s unlikely that ranked choice will make the cut.

Jack Hanson, a Progressive councilor, has been pushing for ranked choice voting since he launched his campaign. He was a co-sponsor of the resolution along with fellow Progressive councilors Brian Pine and Max Tracy. He was at Monday’s committee meeting and expressed frustration.

“It was a packed committee room, citizens who really cared about this issue came specifically for that item and wanted to discuss it, yet that was the one item not discussed,” Hanson said.

Nearly a dozen Burlington residents spoke ahead of the meeting, most of their comments directed at ranked choice voting. Many of them were in support, but several opposed it. Dave Hartnett, a former city councilor, said the perceived benefits it offers such as less negative campaigning don’t apply to Burlington.

“We’re above that here, we don’t have a lot of that,” Hartnett said. “Our campaigns are very respectfully run. The system has worked well. We’ve never, except for once, had a mayoral election where people didn’t feel their vote counted, and that was when we used instant runoff voting.”

Wright was referring to Burlington’s 2009 mayoral election, when former Mayor Bob Kiss was re-elected despite Republican City Council President Kurt Wright receiving more first preference ballots.

Kiss’ term would later be viewed as the beginning of the Burlington Telecom crisis in which the city’s credit rating was downgraded six times. The following year, ranked choice voting was repealed by a relatively slim margin of 303 votes.

Under the system Burlington used from 2006-2010, voters rank candidates on their ballots by preference. If no candidate receives the majority of first preference votes, the candidate with the least amount is eliminated and the second preference choices on the losing candidate’s ballots are counted. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority.

With the Charter Change Committee unlikely to reconvene before next council meeting, voters won’t be weighing in on ranked choice voting next year.

“I hope they’ll make an attempt to get together and discuss this item before Monday,” Hanson said. “It didn’t seem like that was the intention of two out of three councilors on the committee.”

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