On Town Meeting Day, Burlington voted resoundingly in favor of a better ballot. Ballot Question 4, a charter change to adopt ranked choice voting for city council elections passed decisively with 64 percent of the vote, and with nearly 4,000 more ‘yes’ votes than ‘no’ votes. Once approved by the legislature, the measure will take effect in 2022.
The Better Ballot Burlington campaign and Honorary Co-Chairs Councilor Zoraya Hightower (P – Ward 1) and Former Governor Howard Dean (D), led the charge to bring ranked choice voting back to the Queen City. The system is simple: voters rank candidates in order of preference. If your vote cannot help your top choice win, your vote counts for your next choice.
If a candidate gets 50 percent plus one of all first-place votes, the election is decided and that candidate is declared winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-choice votes, the lowest vote-getter is eliminated, and voters who ranked that candidate as their first choice will have their votes count for their second choice. This process continues until there’s a majority winner — a candidate wins with more than half of the vote.
The voting system itself is simple, and Burlington voters approved the measure because ranked choice voting has a host of benefits. Unlike Burlington’s current system, which allows a candidate to win with only 40 percent of the vote, ranked choice voting ensures winners have the support of a true majority of voters. Thus, better represents the will of the people and the spirit of democracy. Burlington voters are joining more than nine million Americans – in red and blue states – who already use this system. Our neighbors in New York and Maine use it to elect city councilors, mayors, and even the president. In cities and the state that use the system, more women and people of color are running for office – and winning – because ranked choice voting discourages negative campaigning and improves the quality of discourse. Ranked choice voting also saves money by eliminating costly runoff elections, instead of holding a separate election, ranked choice voting has a runoff build into the system.
VPIRG stands in strong support of making democracy fairer and more functional. As we look towards the future, we have a goal bringing ranked choice voting and its benefits to statewide elections in 2024.