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Burlington Councilors Debate Resolution To Re-Implement Ranked Choice Voting

Burlington City Hall
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Burlington City Hall

Burlington City Councilors have given initial approval to a measure that could change the city charter to allow Ranked Choice Voting.
In 2005 Burlington implemented Instant Runoff Voting, also known as Ranked Choice Voting, but after dissatisfaction with a mayoral election, a citizens’ initiative led to its repeal in 2010.

Three Progressive councilors offered a resolution Monday evening that would “reintroduce ranked choice voting for the election of the city’s mayor, city councilors, and school commissioners.”  The Charter Change Committee would review the proposal and make recommendations to the council by its December 16th meeting in order to place the question on the March Town Meeting Day ballot.
Primary sponsor East District Councilor Jack Hanson says the current system is outdated, flawed and needs to be changed.  “Some people might say this system is too complicated for voters. Let's let the voters decide.  What this is about is giving the voters of Burlington the opportunity to decide what voting system they would like to use.”

A number of residents spoke in favor of the measure during the public comment period. Resident Joe Scrementi said Burlington must live up to its reputation as a haven of liberal policy and democracy by implementing ranked choice voting.  “Voters are given more choices. It decreases the impact of money in politics. A Rutgers’ study found that ranked choice voting campaigns when they were friendlier, they're more likely to win. Lastly, a University of Missouri study shows that ranked choice voting elections are associated with a 10 point increase in voter turnout. I'd like to see the council put this issue to the voters and if inaction follows we will gather the signatures required to get it on the ballot.”

As the debate began, Republican City Council President Kurt Wright said the system didn’t work well a decade ago.  “In Burlington it did not do away with negative campaigning. It was very negative. We did not have increase in voter participation. But what we did get was a race that didn't inspire people because everybody was afraid to take strong vigorous stands on issues.”

South District Democrat Joan Shannon supports ranked voting but offered an amendment to allow more time and consideration of other election methods in the Charter Change Committee.   “This proposal asks for us to send this to Charter Change Committee for what appears to be a preordained result of recommending it and returning it in one week's time.”

Ward 1 Independent Sharon Foley Bushor worried that because the idea is not new its baggage could compromise eventual passage by voters.  “If it's a fresh idea you can go forward just like we did in 2005 and people were receptive and they were interested. But when you've had a bad experience with something then it takes more time to reintroduce and get people on board. I want this to pass. But I am concerned about the timeline.”

The amendment to adjust the timeline failed on a 6-6 vote.  The original resolution then passed on a 9 to 3 vote.

Audio of the Burlington City Council meeting is courtesy of Channel 17 Town Meeting Television.