Burlington City Council passes ranked-choice voting resolution

Published: Dec. 3, 2019 at 1:35 AM EST
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Burlington’s Progressive city councilors are pushing to bring back ranked-choice voting.

At Monday night’s meeting, the City Council voted 9-3 to pass a resolution that seeks to adopt ranked-choice voting in all mayoral, city councilor and school commissioner elections.

In ranked-choice voting, voters would get to rank the candidates on the ballot based on preference instead of having to choose between two top candidates.

It’s also known as instant-runoff voting. Burlington used ranked-choice voting for mayoral elections between 2005 and 2010 before voters repealed it.

Progressive Councilor Jack Hanson says ranked-choice voting ensures all votes are heard and represented.

“If your candidate loses in the first round, then your second vote will actually go into effect and get distributed to your next candidate. So if you think about a three-way race, right now there’s often that spoiler candidate. It’s the candidate that maybe has less of a shot at winning and people are told, ‘Don’t vote for them. That’s a wasted vote’ or 'That’s a spoiler’ because if you look at the top two candidates, by not voting between one of them, you might not really have a say in that election. Whereas, with ranked-choice voting, even if your candidate does lose badly in the first round, you still get to make your voice heard in terms of the remaining two candidates,” Hanson said.

Councilors in support of ranked-choice voting argue it is better for both voters and candidates than the current system that they say puts third party candidates at a disadvantage and forces voters to cast their ballot for someone just to keep another out of office.

"A benefit for the voters is being able to vote their conscience rather than voting strategically between what they perceive to be the top two candidates and trying to avoid maybe their least favorite getting in. This way, they get to vote in the first round for their top candidate, put that as their top choice, and then still distinguish if their candidate does lose who they would prefer out of the remaining candidates,” Hanson said. “It allows more people to jump into the race. It also is shown to really discourage negative campaigning because if you campaign too negatively, you’re not really going to pick up those second or third round votes, so it encourages positive campaigns.”

The resolution now heads to the Charter Change Committee for a vote on whether to put the question on the March 2020 ballot to be approved by voters.

The state Legislature will get the final say.