Burlington voters ace instant runoff

By Terri Hallenbeck
Published March 8th 2006 in Burlington Free Press
You'd be hard-pressed to find a Burlington voter coming out of the polls Tuesday confused by the new style of voting in play for the mayoral race. Voter after voter said the process was relatively easy to follow, although some cautioned they won't quite know how they feel about its use until they've had time to explore the results.

"It seems like a good idea to me," Dan Weise said of instant runoff voting after he cast his ballot at Mater Christi School in Ward 1. He ranked his five choices for mayor with no trouble, he said, but he planned to pore over the results before putting his seal of approval on the voting method.

The city used instant runoff voting -- or the process of ranking candidates -- for the first time Tuesday, and it played a large role in the results. After the first round of voting, Progressive Bob Kiss led Democrat Hinda Miller, 39 percent to 31 percent. The winner had to surpass 50 percent. With a whirl of the computer, an instant runoff showed that Kiss collected enough second-choice votes from Republican Kevin Curley and independents Louie "The Cowman" Beaudin and Lloyd Ploof to put him over the top.

"I think I owe a debt to Kevin Curley," Kiss said Tuesday night.

As the cliffhanger results sink in with Burlington residents, many people across the state and nation also will be deciphering the impact of the instant runoff voting. While waiting for the results to come in at City Hall on Tuesday night, observers gnawed over the possibilities that the process posed. State legislators will mull the results as they consider expanding instant runoff to statewide races.

At the polls Tuesday, Antonio Hinton, vice chairman of the Burlington Republican Party, stood out in his opposition to instant runoff voting. He noted that under the system someone could be elected mayor who did not receive the most votes in the first round of voting. "I believe in one man, one vote," he said. "I believe this is to keep Democrats and Progressives in power."

Most voters took the process in stride. City officials set up help desks at each polling site, and Ward 2 election official Megan Humphrey feared a bottleneck of voters might build up there. Instead, help desk staff got in a lot of reading.

By late afternoon, Ward 2 help desk staffer Greg McKnight had had just two questions all day. One wanted to know what would happen if he ranked the same person first, second and third (the machine would spit the ballot back out). Ward 6 help desk staffer Pat Buteau said the two main questions he heard were: Do I have to rank all five candidates? (No.) And how are votes distributed? (If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of first choices, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the second choices of those voters are counted.)

"I'm really impressed by how educated people are," Humphrey said.

Some voters opted to mark just one or two candidates, rather than all five, saying they preferred not to include candidates they opposed entirely.

Emiry Potter, voting in Ward 2 at H.O. Wheeler School, ranked Kiss his top choice and Miller second, but he wasn't willing to keep going. "I don't see worse, worse and worse," he said.
Contact Terri Hallenbeck at 229-9141 or thallenb@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com