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Vermont Secretary of State hosts informational forum on Ranked Choice Voting

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Lucas Willard
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The Vermont Secretary of State and the League of Women Voters of Vermont hosted an online forum Wednesday evening on Ranked Choice Voting, with the practice poised to expand.

Ranked Choice Voting is currently used in Burlington to elect the mayor and city councilors. League of Women Voters of Vermont President Sue Racanelli explained that the state is considering expanding the voting system.

“Ranked Choice Voting is a new and powerful way of choosing our leaders,” Racanelli said. “Vermont legislature will also be deciding in their next session whether to start rank choice voting in the 2028 presidential primary.”

Secretary of State Sarah Copeland Hanzas said because voters statewide may begin using the system it is important to start familiarizing them with how it works.

“This series that we're having are really our first foray into reaching out and educating and engaging Vermonters about Ranked Choice Voting, so that when the legislature takes up a bill next session to move us to Ranked Choice Voting folks are already familiar with what it does and how it works.”

The North Carolina-based Ranked Choice Voting Resource Centerworks with election officials to provide information on the system and aid with implementation. Director of Public Policy Ryan Kirby outlined how it works.

“In the simplest terms, it is a way for voters to rank candidates in the order of their own preference,” explained Kirby. “Voters have the ability to indicate a first choice, second choice and so on. You can rank as many or as few depending on the number of spaces that you have available to you. So if you only like one person, you can rank only one person. If you do like two people, you can rank two. And if you have, you know, up to 10, like you can rank up to 10 of them if your heart desires and you have opinions about all ten of them. But there's no requirement that you use all of the spaces.”

Kirby then detailed how the ranked choice ballots are tabulated.

“All of the first choice votes are counted, just like a plurality election, and we look for a winner,” said Kirby. “If no candidate has a majority then we're going to begin moving to rounds of counting. The candidate in last place is eliminated and the voters who pick that candidate have their ballot transferred to their next choice. Once the ballots have been transferred, we check again for a winner. If a candidate gets a majority then they are elected. If there are still no candidates with a majority, then we repeat the process. So why do jurisdictions adopt Ranked Choice Voting? It can reduce election costs and campaign costs. By using RCV some jurisdictions choose to eliminate runoff elections. And in some cases, RCV has been used to eliminate primaries. They just have one election the general election in November.”

Secretary of State Copeland Hanzas was asked why Vermont is not implementing the system for all elections.

“Ranked Choice Voting works best in races where you have more than two candidates,” noted Copeland Hanzas. “Another reason why we might not implement RCV for all elections in Vermont is there are a lot of details that we have to work out about how Ranked Choice Voting is going to work in a state that has some communities that have tabulators to count their votes and other communities that are hand count town. So we're taking a slow and careful approach to how we how we do Ranked Choice Voting here in Vermont.”

Ranked Choice Voting is currently being used in Maine and Alaska, three counties and 45 cities, including Cambridge, Massachusetts, New York City and Burlington, Vermont.

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