Yesterday, the Vermont Senate advanced H.744, legislation that would allow the City of Burlington to use ranked choice voting (RCV) in all future city council elections. If enacted, this reform would strengthen democracy in Vermont’s largest city by giving voters more choices and stronger voices in their local elections. VPIRG organized a group of civic and advocacy organizations who delivered a letter to the Vermont Senate in support of the bill. After this victory in the Senate, the bill now heads to Governor Scott’s desk.
The legislation would allow Burlington voters the ability to rank city council candidates in order of preference – 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on. With ranked choice voting, if your vote can’t help your top choice win it counts automatically for your next choice. If one candidate gets over 50% of all first-place votes, then that candidate wins, and the election is over. However, if no candidate gets 50%, the least popular candidate is eliminated and voters who picked them will have their second-choice votes count. This process continues until a candidate surpasses the 50% threshold.
This reform alleviates many of the undemocratic outcomes that are prevalent in plurality elections. Under existing law, a city councilor can win the election with as little as 40% of the vote – which means the winner could be the least favorite candidate of 60% of voters. If enacted, RCV would ensure that more voices are heard – and included – in the democratic process and that the winner always has majority support. Similar problems are prevalent in statewide races in Vermont, but we currently lack an equitable process to address them. Ranked choice voting better reflects the will of voters and the spirit of democracy.
Ranked choice voting also addresses the common issue of “vote-splitting,” in which two similar candidates split the vote and allow a third (and more importantly less popular) candidate to win the race. With ranked choice voting, voters are empowered to vote their conscious knowing that a ballot cast for a long shot won’t affect the chances of their next preferred choice.
For these reasons and more, VPIRG and several organizations delivered a letter to the Vermont Senate in support of the bill. The full letter can be found here:
VPIRG remains a strong proponent of bringing RCV to statewide elections in Vermont. A transition to RCV would strengthen democracy and make our elections more fair and functional. To find out more about what statewide ranked choice voting could look like, check out www.betterballotvermont.org.