On March 15th, the Senate’s Committee on Government Operations voted 6-0 in favor of legislation to put ranked choice voting in place for Vermont’s 2028 Presidential Primary. The unanimous vote included support from Democratic, Republican, and Progressive/Democrat members.
The bill (S.32) would create a summer study committee to investigate and make recommendations on other statewide elections that may be ripe for ranked choice voting (RCV) in 2026. It would also grant authority to cities and towns to adopt RCV in their local elections as soon as 2024.
On Town Meeting Day, 64 percent of Burlington supported a proposed charter change to expand the use of RCV to include mayoral and other elections. Burlington already uses RCV in races for city council.
The Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) has been a longtime champion of this legislation. Executive Director Paul Burns celebrated the move in the Senate to take RCV statewide. “This vote in favor of ranked choice voting demonstrates the power of simple, pro-voter reform like this,” Burns said. “Across the political spectrum, we’re finding support for giving voters more choices, holding politicians accountable, and making campaigns less toxic.”
The Senate Government Operations Committee took testimony from a wide range of stakeholders and tailored the legislation carefully to address many interests. In addition to instate entities, the Committee heard from national experts and elections administrators including Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows.
“The Senate Government Operations Committee continued efforts to ensure that Vermonters have broad access to the polls and that every vote counts,” said Senator Ruth Hardy (D), Chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee. “Through a unanimous tri-partisan vote, the Committee passed S.32 to give towns the option of implementing rank choice voting in 2024 and prepare for statewide rank choice voting elections in 2026 and 2028” Hardy continued. “I am proud of our Committee’s teamwork with the Secretary of State, the VT Clerk’s Association, the VT League of Cities & Towns, and voting rights advocacy organizations.”
“I am excited for this step forward in building a stronger democracy,” said Senator Tanya Vyhovsky (P/D), Vice-Chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee. “Ranked choice voting is good policy and makes our elections more accessible for voters and for candidates. For voters, it means that less votes are wasted on withdrawn candidates, and the ability to vote on more nuanced issues. For candidates, it can help open the process for more diverse voices and empower more candidates to run on issues-based platforms without worrying about being a spoiler.”
A coalition of businesses and organizations organized in favor of the legislation.
“Vermont Conservation Voters is delighted by the passage of S.32 through the Senate Committee on Government Operations, and we appreciate the committee’s leadership on this issue. This bill is a positive step forward on the road to delivering an expanded democracy to Vermonters and providing more access to both voters and those who choose to run for elected office,” said Justin Marsh, Political Outreach Director at Vermont Conservation Voters.
Betty Keller, lead advocate for RCV at the League of Women Voters of Vermont said “We’re so happy to see this bill voted out of the Senate Committee on Government Operations by unanimous vote. Ranked Choice Voting is a nonpartisan, pro-voter issue, and it’s great to see the committee recognize this. In today’s polarized political climate, we see a ray of sunshine for more choice and more voice for voters, and less polarization in our culture.”
“Ranked choice voting helps strengthen democracy by giving voters more choices, and a stronger voice in elections,” said Dan Fingas, Movement Politics Director at Rights and Democracy. “By giving voters the option to rank candidates, you are empowering voters. People can show up at the polls excited to vote for their favorite candidate and also rank all the candidates they chose to ensure the candidate who best shares the voter’s values wins.”
RCV is one of the fastest growing voting reforms in the nation. As of December 2022, 64 jurisdictions have ranked choice voting in place. This includes two states, Maine and Alaska, that use RCV in state, federal, and presidential elections. Five states used RCV in the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary.
The legislation must win approval once more in the Senate Appropriations Committee before being considered by the full Senate.