MONTPELIER – As we reach the midpoint of Vermont’s legislative session, lawmakers are deciding which bills will make it past crossover week, which acts as a deadline to pass at least one chamber for further consideration.
Among the flurry of legislation was a late push to adopt ranked choice voting in Vermont.
The system asks voters to rank candidates based on preference. If no candidate receives over 50 percent of voters’ first choices, the lowest ranked candidate is dropped and those voters’ second choices are factored in. The process repeats itself until one candidate pulls away with a majority.
Bill S.229 aimed to have ranked choice ballots in the hands of voters by the 2024 primary, but Secretary of State Jim Condos said the timeline is unrealistic given how busy his office is with this year’s elections.
“I worry that this on-ramp before us is too short to replicate these enhancements,” Condos said. “As a former legislator, I believe strongly it would be irresponsible to pass legislation this year that you know you have to come back and fix next year.”
Condos has been a vocal advocate of ranked choice voting. As a state legislator, he spent several years trying to build support for the system, but never managed to get the momentum his bills needed.
His distaste for this effort stems from what he felt was unnecessary sense of urgency on the part of the bill’s sponsors.
“Vermont used to listen to its experts and not soundbites,” Condos said. “I also want to say that we were very clear with the advocates that we preferred 2026, but that we would concede for trying to do it for a presidential primary. We don’t have that luxury any more.”
That change in outlook was due to Condos learning that a ten year contract for the state’s election management system will expire January 2024, and the process for finding a new one could take up to 18 months.
Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, one of the bill’s sponsors, took issue with Condos’ suggestion that the rushed legislation was more about scoring political points.
“Where the Secretary sees flashy commercials and doing this too far in advance, I truly see it as giving voters more time to digest what will be a big change,” Ram Hinsdale said.
Regardless, the bill failed to go to a vote in committee, meaning that ranked choice voting in Vermont has suffered the latest in a long line of setbacks.