Around New England

Vermont Eyeing Ranked-Choice Voting, But Response Tepid So Far

March 6, 2019

A bill that would bring ranked-choice voting to most elections in Vermont has only six co-sponsors in the 150-member House of Representatives.

Ranked-choice voting takes into account voters’ second and third choices in cases where no one wins an outright majority of votes. A typical way of doing it is for the bottom candidate to be eliminated in the second round and his voters’ second-place choices to be redistributed as if they were actual votes for another candidate. The next-from-the-bottom candidate is then eliminated in likewise fashion and so on until one of the remaining candidates has a majority.

Vermont House Bill 144 would apply to elections in the state except for presidential primaries and general elections for Congress.

The state’s largest city, Burlington, threw out ranked-choice voting after the 2009 mayor’s race, in which the incumbent mayor somehow ended up re-elected even while appearing to lose.

Bob Kiss, a member of the Progressive Party, lost by the traditional first-past-the-post tallying, getting only 29 percent while another candidate won a plurality with 33 percent, according to Seven Days. But since no one got a majority the city’s ranked-choice system kicked in, once again favoring the plurality vote-getter in the second round. But once the fifth-place finisher, fourth-place finisher, and third-place finisher were eliminated, Kiss ended up with more “votes” (including down-ballot selections by voters of lower-finishing candidates) than the candidate who won a plurality of first-choice votes.

Many voters in Burlington “felt disenfranchised by the result,” according to Seven Days, and their mood didn’t improve when the mayor “grew more unpopular the longer he was in office.”

In Maine, opponents of conservative Governor Paul LePage frustrated when he won two terms with only a plurality of the vote put ranked-choice voting on the ballot in 2016, and voters narrowly approved it. It notched its first election flip in November 2018, taking out U.S. Representative Bruce Poliquin, a Republican whose 46 percent plurality in the general election couldn’t survive ranked-choice distribution of second-choice selections from the fourth-place finisher and the third-place finisher.

Massachusetts legislators are also considering a ranked-choice bill.

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