Burlington's Mayoral Election Spurs Others to Vote with IRV | Politics | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Burlington's Mayoral Election Spurs Others to Vote with IRV

Local Matters


Published December 27, 2006 at 4:27 p.m.

BURLINGTON - Following on the heels of Burlington's successful experiment with instant runoff voting in its mayoral election last March ["Mayoral Balloting Seen as Model for U.S. Election Reform," March 15, 2006], voters in four other municipalities around the country have since elected to give the system a try, according to the elections expert who helped the Queen City implement its new voting system.

In November, three jurisdictions passed charter amendments, and a fourth passed an advisory referendum to adopt IRV, according to Caleb Kleppner, a consultant with Election Solutions of New Haven, Connecticut. Voters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Oakland, California, and Pierce County, Washington, just south of Seattle, will adopt an IRV system for all countywide races starting in November 2008.

The fourth city - Davis, California - passed an advisory referendum recommending that the city adopt IRV for its municipal elections. California law doesn't allow cities to change their electoral procedures without first getting approval from the state legislature.

"In all of these places, the successful and well-received election in Burlington helped convince people that this wasn't a crazy idea," said Kleppner, who began working with Burlington about a year ago to help design the city's voter-education campaign and test the software that tallied the results. "It's something that really makes sense and works the way it's described."

With IRV, voters rank their choice of candidates in order of preference. When the votes are tallied, if one candidate doesn't receive more than 50 percent of the votes, the next choices of the bottom candidates are automatically reallocated to the two leading contenders until one of them receives a majority.

Although critics warned that the new system might confuse some people, such as first-time voters and the elderly, those fears never materialized; according to Kleppner, 99.9 percent of Burlington voters cast a successful ballot. Burlington was only the second city in the nation to use IRV balloting on modern voting equipment. San Francisco was the first, in 2004.

Recently, the Vermont Secretary of State's office has been compiling an "implementation report" exploring the feasibility of adopting IRV for some statewide races. Though Secretary of State Deb Markowitz hasn't taken a public stand on IRV, she says it's under serious consideration.

"I'm on record for supporting the idea of majority elections, that it's better for democracy when people are elected by majority vote," Markowitz says. "Instant runoff voting is one way of reaching majority rule, and there are many benefits to it. And, there are also challenges to it."

It's still unclear whether Vermont can change the way it elects its governor, lieutenant governor and treasurer without passing a constitutional amendment. Markowitz and the legislative counsel believe it can be done; the attorney general isn't so sure. A constitutional amendment must pass two successive biennia of the legislature.

The IRV implementation report is due to be presented to the legislature by the end of January.

» Read the full list of 2006 news updates.