With the overwhelming support of nearly two-thirds of the electorate, voters in Burlington, the largest city in Vermont, have backed an amendment to restore ranked choice voting (RCV) for all city council elections. The amendment now puts Burlington on track to implement RCV in March 2022, pending approval of the amendment by the Vermont General Assembly and governor.
The City of Burlington had previously adopted ranked choice voting for its mayoral elections in 2005, an early adoption that helped blaze the trail of future electoral reforms. Two mayoral elections later, Burlington voters narrowly repealed after the mayor elected with RCV became embroiled in a scandal, and RCV became the best vehicle to target him.
Turnout in that repeal vote was low -- barely half of the more representative turnout this week. Burlington leader and voters also have learned from the successful use of RCV around the nation. “You can get a mayor who’s controversial any time by any system. This doesn’t change human frailties, but what [RCV] does do is give us a better process, a more fair process,” former Vermont Governor Dean, co-chair of the Better Ballot Burlington initiative which campaigned for the recent ballot measure, told WCAX.
Voters, particularly younger ones, have also become more passionate about electoral reform as they have seen the dysfunction associated with America’s electoral system.
“RCV has gotten a good deal of media attention recently and there's a lot of excitement — from voters who were here at that time, like my campaign co-chair, former Gov. Howard Dean, and from the two-thirds of voters like me who were not on Burlington's rolls in 2010,” explained City Councilwoman Zoraya Hightower, the 30-year-old co-chair of Better Ballot Burlington.
This vote marks the 12th win for RCV in the last 13 ballot measures on its adoption across the United States, following in the path of a slew of cities and states voting in 2020. These wins indicate that American voters have an increasing distaste with the current state of single-choice electoral systems. Ranked choice voting has momentum in both legislatures and at the ballot box as it empowers voters to express the full scope of their preferences and results in improved representation that reflects those preferences.