Burlington City Council debates return to ranked-choice voting

Local News

BURLINGTON, Vt. – Progressives on the Burlington City Council are leading an effort to bring ranked-choice voting back to Burlington.

Under the system, known as RCV, 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.

The city used RCV — which is sometimes referred to as instant-runoff voting — from 2006 to 2010. The format caused a stir in 2009, 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 The following year, ranked choice voting was repealed by a relatively slim margin of 303 votes.

Progressive Brian Pine, who sponsored the council’s resolution along with Progressive colleagues Max Tracy and Jack Hanson, argued that the city’s financial troubles had nothing to do with ranked-choice voting.

“Unfortunately, voters conflated the two issues,” Pine said. “In fact, there’s large numbers of advocates for instant-runoff voting and ranked-choice voting that cover the political spectrum.”

Pine said RCV would level the playing field for non-major party candidates and inject more participation and positive campaigning in Burlington elections. Minneapolis has had RCV since 2009, and Pine said he’s been monitoring its progress.

“Voters coming out of the polls for the very first time using this method said it was incredibly straightforward,” Pine said. “It allowed candidates to run on the issues and not campaign war chests, and they weren’t doing attack ads or going after each other.”

Residents who spoke at Monday’s city council meeting were generally receptive. Joe Scramenti of Burlington resident urged councilors to take up the issue.

“I’d like to see this council put this issue to the voters, and if inaction follows, we will gather the signatures required to put it on the ballot,” Scramenti said. “If we want Burlington to be a truly Democratic city at the forefront of liberal policy, this is the way forward.”

Should the resolution move forward, it would head to the Charter Change Committee. The Council could take it back up later this month.

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