Legislation aimed at giving voters more choices and a stronger voice in elections received a big boost today with the launch of a significant advertising campaign featuring some high-profile legislative leaders. Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint (D-Windham), joined Senators Chris Pearson (P/D- Chittenden), and Kesha Ram Hinsdale (D-Chittenden) appearing in the ad, supporting ranked choice voting for certain statewide elections in Vermont.
Ranked choice voting (RCV) gives voters the option to rank candidates in order of preference. In cases where no candidate wins a majority of first choice votes, the last place finisher is removed and those who voted for that person have their vote counted automatically for their second choice. This continues until there is a majority winner.
The 30-second video advertisement will receive significant airtime over the next few weeks on both broadcast and streaming media. It’s paid for by the Vermont Public interest Research Group (VPIRG) and RepresentUs, two nonprofit advocacy groups supporting RCV and other democratic reforms.
RCV is increasingly popular in states and municipalities around the nation with more than 50 jurisdictions projected to use it their next election. This includes Maine and Alaska, two states using RCV in statewide elections. Five states used it in the presidential primary in 2020. And in Vermont, Burlington voters overwhelming supported a proposed charter change in 2021 calling for city council races to use RCV going forward.
Voter suppression is absolutely happening in other states right now. But Vermont has been moving in a different direction, removing barriers to voting and making our elections more accessible to all. Ranked choice voting is the next logical step in this pro-voter, pro-democracy campaign.
Senator Ram Hinsdale is the chief sponsor of legislation (S.229) that would put RCV in place for federal races and the presidential primary and general election, beginning in 2024. The bill has seven co-sponsors, include Balint and Pearson.
“I am proud to be the lead sponsor of ranked choice voting because for so many marginalized communities, representation matters and is too often left off the table,” said Ram Hinsdale. “Special elections can end up being left to people who have the privilege or the capacity to pay attention. This can leave a lot of working Vermonters behind. Having one election ensures everyone can vote their first choice, their second choice, and their third choice. It\’s the doorstep democracy that we\’re used to.”
According to a 2020 report by the group, RepresentWomen, at the start of 2020, half of all mayors and nearly half (49%) of all city council members elected in cities in the U.S. that use ranked choice voting are women.
Vermont is the only remaining state in the U.S. not to have sent a woman to Congress. That may change in the next year as at least three women have announced their intention to seek the U.S House seat now held by Rep. Peter Welch. Welch is running for the open U.S. Senate seat. Two of the three announced candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for the House seat – Balint and Ram Hinsdale – are appearing in the RCV ad.
“Many Vermonters that I talk to are no longer trusting in the democratic process,” said Balint. “They feel like nothing they do makes any difference. Ranked choice voting is a way to say to them, your voice will be heard. It gives people the opportunity to vote their own values, knowing that those votes will still count in the end.”
Ranked choice voting may also offer an antidote to increasingly bitter partisanship as it gives candidates a strong reason to conduct positive campaigns. Candidates have an incentive to avoid personal attacks on opponents and instead identify some common ground with their competitors’ supporters because they could benefit from being the second choice of those voters.
“When it comes to politics, Vermonters are very independent and ranked choice voting is a good way to honor that independence and open up options beyond the two parties,” said Pearson. “A ranked ballot lets voters rank their candidates in preference, and it guarantees that the winner is somebody supported by the majority. This is really important today because we face a crisis of confidence in the democratic process.”
The 2024 presidential primary, just over two years away, would be the first chance for Vermont voters to use RCV statewide. Backers of S.229 say this would be a perfect way to introduce RCV statewide as it would be the only race on the ballot.
Given the nature of presidential nominating contests, ranking the candidates through RCV will also give voters a chance to ensure that their vote will not be wasted, even if their top candidate has dropped out of the race by the time Vermont’s primary is held. This is particularly important as more and more voters take advantage of vote-by-mail and early voting options.
Voting, especially in difficult times like these, is itself an act of faith. It shouldn’t be a choice between the lesser of two evils. Ranked choice voting gives citizens the freedom to cast a vote motivated by hope rather than fear.