A measure to bring ranked choice voting to Burlington will not be on November’s ballot.
During the July 13th meeting, the Burlington City Council passed a resolution to place a question on the November ballot asking voters if ranked choice voting should be implemented in citywide elections. Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger vetoed the move, and Monday night councilors considered an override.
The measure would put a Charter Change question on the fall ballot to change the city’s voting system to ranked choice voting for mayor, city councilors and school commissioners. The system had previously been used but was rescinded in 2010.
The measure passed the Progressive-controlled council in July, on a vote of 6 to 5.
On August 6th Mayor Weinberger issued his first veto since taking office, objecting to “the timing, avoidable expense, and substance of the resolution.”
Weinberger told councilors Monday to grapple instead with the economic repercussions of the pandemic. “There's a limit to what we can afford to take on in this environment and the budget we created and approved together at the end of June recognized that. A principle of that budget was that the year ahead could include basically no new initiatives. And yet two weeks later the council passed by a slim majority a call for a significant and new initiative in terms of costs and staff time: a special election this November. The earliest that a change will take place, whether it's voted on in November or whether it's voted on in March, is 2022. Given this reality the only justification for placing this on the ballot on November instead of March is the voter turnout in November will be higher.”
A number of activists called into the virtual public comment session criticizing the mayor’s veto and demanding the council approve an override. “My name is Kate Lapp. I’m the government reform associate at VPIRG, the Vermont Interest Research Group. For the mayor to unilaterally block a public vote on how we elect our officials including the mayor is outrageous.”
East District Progressive Jack Hanson offered the motion to override the veto, discounting concerns about the estimated $45,000 cost to place the item on the ballot. He also noted that the council had extensively discussed whether to put the question on the November or March Town Meeting Day ballot. “I don't think stifling local democracy is a way to cut costs. And I'm not only talking about preventing a higher number of voters from voting on this, which again is why we chose November to hear from more people about the issue. But also I'm talking about overriding the will of our public legislative body the City Council.”
Ward 5 Democrat Chip Mason planned to sustain the mayor’s veto. “I have an issue with rank choice voting. I'm willing to engage in a conversation about other systems that may work better and hope that if this is sustained we can have that conversation. Ranked choice voting I'm not in favor of in November or in March.”
The override vote was 7 to 5, short of the required two-thirds majority. Therefore the ranked choice voting question will not appear on the November ballot.