Burlington Holds Second Highly Successful Instant Runoff Voting Election

By Rob Richie
Published March 3rd 2009 in Huffington Post
Here's a news release we sent out tonight... A fascinating election!

Incumbent mayor Bob Kiss today won Burlington, Vermont's second instant runoff voting election for mayor in which voters had the power to rank five candidates in order of preference. First used in Burlington to elect its mayor in 2006, instant runoff voting (IRV) essentially combines a first round and a runoff election into one. Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, observed that, "This year's instant runoff voting election again went smoothly, with ease for voters and a widely praised campaign."

Catherine Rader, President of the League of Women Voters of Vermont, added that Burlington was able to identify the campaign's strongest candidate without having to resort to a runoff. "Runoffs too often result in far fewer votes being cast than the first round, adding costs to campaigns and increasing demands on taxpayers."

The Burlington election was a model of clean, open debate without "spoiler" concerns. Democratic city councilor Bill Keogh was quoted in the local daily newspaper, the Burlington Free Press, as saying, "This campaign has been very, very good" and that the four leading candidates had been "as forthright as they can be with their views. This is the most respectful and informative campaign in Burlington in a long time."

FairVote, the nation's leading resource on instant runoff voting, is pleased to work closely with many Vermont civic groups favoring IRV such as the League of Women Voters of Vermont, Vermont Common Cause and Vermont PIRG. Burlington's method of IRV has been used for decades to elect the highest offices in nations like Australia and Ireland and recently adopted for elections in major cities like San Francisco (CA), Minneapolis (MN), and Memphis (TN). It has also earned the active support of both President Barack Obama and Senator John McCain.

As in 2006, the Burlington mayoral election was unusual by American standards because there were four serious candidates who were all seen as having a real chance of winning. Under typical American plurality election rules, this would have created great concerns about "spoiler" problems in which the majority might be split among similar candidates, allowing a less popular candidate to win with well under 50%. Instant runoff voting protects majority rule by guaranteeing that the least popular candidate cannot win the election, as can happen with a traditional plurality system.

This year, with so many viable choices, no candidate won an outright majority of more than 50% of first choices - indeed, plurality winner Kurt Wright won only a third of the initial vote. The election went to an instant runoff tally. In the instant runoff, the candidates with the fewest votes were dropped, including independent Dan Smith and Democrat Andy Montroll, and the field was narrowed to two finalists. In the final instant runoff round, every ballot counted as a single vote for whichever of the two finalists, Progressive mayor Bob Kiss or Republican Kurt Wright, was ranked higher on each ballot. By 8:25 p.m. the IRV tally was completed and Kiss had been re-elected, defeating Wright in the final round by 51.5% to 48.5%. Despite being outspent by Wright by a margin of approximately two to one, Kiss was heavily preferred by supporters of Democrat Montroll.

FairVote (www.fairvote.org ) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that advocates for fair elections. For more information, contact it executive director Rob Richie at (301) 270-4616.


First Choice Count

Kurt Wright (R) 2952 - 32%.
Mayor Bob Kiss (P) 2585 - 28%.
Andy Montroll (D) 2065 - 23%.
Dan Smith (I) 1307 - 14%

Final Round Count

Kiss: 4313 - 51.5%
Wright: 4061 - 48.5%


Burlington Free Press commentary: City Voters Fortunate to Have IRV

Local television coverage: Burlington Politics More Civil These Days

Burlington Free Press news coverage: Instant runoff likely in Burlington

Seven Days: Everything you ever wanted to know about IRV -but didn't know how to ask