| Ella Ruehsen | VTDigger |
Burlington voters will again use ranked choice voting to elect city councilors, following approval by state lawmakers.
Gov. Phil Scott on Thursday cleared the way for the local voting system by allowing a charter change bill, H.744 , to become law without his signature. The legislation authorizes the Queen City to move forward with ranked choice voting and to adopt local ordinances to implement the system.
Right now, in Burlington, people win without even getting a majority of votes, which is very, I find, undemocratic.
The governor said in a letter to lawmakers that he would allow the charter change to take effect because “its scope is limited to the method of elections of the Burlington City Council.” But he made clear that he opposed a statewide system of ranked choice voting because he believes “one person should get one vote, and candidates who get the most votes should win elections.”
In his letter, the governor referred to an earlier era of ranked choice voting in Burlington. The city adopted the system for all city elections in 2005 but discarded it in 2010 after it led to the election of Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss — who had not won a plurality of votes and whose tenure ended in scandal.
“Ten years ago, Burlington voters rejected a similar instant runoff election system because it yielded flawed results,” Scott wrote. “Nevertheless, the political winds have shifted and once again Burlington voters, for now, favor ranked choice voting.”
The latest version, which applies only to city council elections, won approval by more than two-thirds of Burlington voters in March 2021. Such amendments to the city charter require signoff from the state.
City Councilor Jack Hanson, P-East District, a proponent of ranked choice voting, said he plans to propose an ordinance next month to more clearly define how ranked choice voting would work in council elections.
Under Burlington’s plurality system, council candidates have been able to win election with 40% of the vote. If no candidate earned 40%, a runoff election was scheduled.
Hanson, who wrote and sponsored the resolution in 2019 that initiated the transition to ranked choice voting, said the method “really opens the door for a lot more people to run and particularly women and people of color who would otherwise be discouraged from running.”
“Ideally, this will become the dominant voting method in Vermont and in the U.S.,” Hanson said. “Right now, in Burlington, people win without even getting a majority of votes, which is very, I find, undemocratic — the idea that someone could be elected to a position of power and govern people when a majority (did not) support them.”
City Councilor Gene Bergman, P-Ward 2, called the ranked choice charter change important because it’s “about the way that we elect our own people, decide how we are going to elect our own city council.”
Councilor Ben Traverse, D-Ward 8, said he was frustrated that city charter changes are subject to approval by the Legislature, as opposed to requiring only Burlington voters’ input.
“It doesn’t sit well with me that legislators from around the state that have really no vested interest in how Burlington runs Burlington elections can make changes to our charter,” he said.
Several advocacy groups also pushed for Burlington’s move to ranked choice voting.
Vermont Public Interest Research Group has advocated extensively for adoption of ranked choice voting throughout the state.
“We think that a fundamental tenet of democracy is that the winner should be a person who is supported by a majority of voters in an election,” said Paul Burns, VPIRG’s executive director. “(People) getting to choose to vote for their favorite candidate without fear of helping to elect their least favorite candidate means that more people are excited about participating in an election where they’re not feeling as though they are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils.”