2001 Vermont Secretary of State Memo on IRV Feasibility

TO:             Senate Government Operations
FROM:      Secretary of State Deborah L. Markowitz
RE:             Voter Education and Instant Runoff Voting
DATE:        April 19, 2001

In an effort to convey my continued support  for S.50 and S.94, the instant runoff preference voting bills, I want to make it clear that, while I agree that implementation of this law would require a strong voter education effort, I believe that the Secretary of State’s office can provide the necessary voter education, with the cooperation of various civics groups such as the League of Women Voters, the news media, and public service announcements, with no significant adjustment to our budget.

The bills currently require that this office design the ballots in such a way that voters are able to indicate their first choice in a given race in the same manner as the do currently.  We believe that this can be done.  

As you all know, every time we have made improvements to our election systems, there has been concern about whether voters could adjust.  In 1892 Vermont adopted the use of standard government-printed ballots -- the so-called "Australian ballot."  This innovation required voters for the first time to mark a ballot listing all qualified candidates, rather than simply deposit a "ballot" provided by a candidate, party, newspaper, or prepared at home.  The whole process of searching through a list of names to find your preferred candidate and marking ballots in voting booths was strange at first.  But voters quickly adapted.

Similarly, when some towns first started using various kinds of voting machines, skeptics said that voters would not be able to cope.  However, those concerns did not bear out. Our experience was, and continues to be, that voters quickly learn what is required by our new voting systems. Of course, the willingness of our election officials to assist voters who may be confused about a particular change has been essential to Vermont’s success

We are confident that, with a reasonable voter education effort, Vermonters can easily adapt to using a rank-order ballot.  Please feel free to contact me if you wish to discuss this further.  
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