Burlington City Council to consider ranked choice voting, all-resident voting

Published: Nov. 21, 2022 at 6:04 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Burlington City Council will vote Monday night on several measures that could end up on the Town Meeting Day ballot. That includes a proposal to change the way voters elect their mayor.

The City Council is looking at three charter changes. One is allowing all residents to vote, another is about where to put polling places as redistricting looms, and the third and most contentious is allowing ranked choice voting in mayoral and school commission elections.

A few years ago, a proposal to allow all-resident voting failed to win the City Council’s approval to make it on the ballot. Now that Montpelier and Winooski have passed similar charter changes allowing people who are legal residents but not citizens to vote, the Burlington council is expected to unanimously put it on the ballot.

“It’s always the right time to expand democracy in my way of thinking, so this is the time for that,” said Gene Bergman, P-Burlington City Council.

Also on the ballot is a change in where polling places are located to make it easier to vote. This comes ahead of a redistricting charter change expected to be in front of the council in a couple of weeks.

The final measure up for discussion is the most contentious-- ranked choice voting for mayoral and school commission elections.

In the late 2000s, Burlington had ranked choice for mayoral elections, but voters soured on the idea after Bob Kiss was elected mayor without receiving the highest number of votes in the first round of voting. Voters repealed ranked choice shortly after, but later brought back the system for City Council elections.

Now, Progressives are pushing to use the system again for mayoral and school commission elections.

“When I hear from residents, constituents that want this kind of change and I am posed with the question of whether or not to put this on the ballot, as to whether or not they’d support it, I owe it to my constituents to allow them to weigh in on that question,” said Ben Traverse, D-Burlington City Council.

All of the proposed charter changes go to the mayor’s desk before they reach the ballot. Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington, says he won’t support ranked choice voting in the mayor’s race. He said he supports it in City Council elections and even presidential primaries where there are multiple candidates to choose from.

“I think those are situations where ranked choice voting might make sense. I think for the Burlington mayoral election we have a system in place for a long time that’s worked well. I don’t think we should change it,” Weinberger said.

If Weinberger vetoes the change, the council would need a two-thirds majority to override.

Councilors I spoke to say there is likely to be unanimous support for all resident and polling place charter changes. However, it’s likely some councilors will not be voting for ranked choice.

All charter changes-- even if approved by the citizens in March-- must go to the Legislature and then the governor’s desk for approval.