Is ranked choice voting a winner? Burlington residents weigh in

Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 5:35 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Ranked choice voting has returned to Burlington for the first time in more than a decade. The voting system was rolled back out on Tuesday for a special election for City Council.

For the most part, voters I spoke to said the system was easy to figure out. Some even said they hope it’s expanded to other Burlington elections.

“I think it makes more sense,” said Kathryn Debari of Burlington. “I feel like the person who is the most people want really gets in.”

Voters cast their choices on Tuesday for the east district councilor who covers wards 1 and 8 in the community.

Many said they took advantage of the voting method by ranking all three candidates.

In ranked choice, if the person who gets the highest number of votes doesn’t reach 50%, the challenger with the least votes is automatically out, and then people’s second-place votes are counted in the next round.

Ranked choice voting is back in Burlington for the first time in more than a decade.
Ranked choice voting is back in Burlington for the first time in more than a decade.(WCAX)

“I think it captures the sentiments of a voter better,” said Jeffrey Jarrad of Burlington. “You really don’t know, if somebody doesn’t get enough votes, you don’t know what the voter was really looking for in a candidate and this captures that.”

Burlington previously used ranked choice for mayoral elections in the mid-2000s. However, it was repealed after a mayoral election in which the person who received the most votes in the first round didn’t ultimately win.

“The candidates on the left split the number one votes, but as people started ranking two and three, those votes weren’t split anymore and the left emerged victorious with Mayor Bob Kiss. So it worked as it intended to work,” said Bert Johnson, a Middlebury College political science professor.

Johnson said it can be confusing for people voting for the first time using the ranked choice method.

Burlington had plenty of materials to help people understand at the polls on Tuesday.

“I think it was pretty straightforward. I thought they did a pretty good job explaining it,” said Olivia Turner of Burlington.

Ultimately, others in support said they hope this system is used in mayoral elections. That could be headed to the ballot in March.

“It also allows for voting to be a less ugly and partisan thing in terms of how the campaigns are run. There’s an incentive to be more civil in the campaign because you might want to be someone’s second choice,” said Michael Long of Burlington.

Others I spoke to who did not want to go on camera said that while ranked choice voting takes away some barriers to running for office, the way Burlington’s district map is set up still creates issues of expensive campaigns for those who wish to vie for City Council seats.

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