Burlington's Instant Runoff Voting On Ballot Again

02/12/10 5:49PM By Bob Kinzel
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(Host) The future of instant run off voting in Burlington will be decided on Town Meeting Day when voters address whether it should be repealed.

VPR's Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Instant run off voting allows people to list candidates in order of preference and it's used only if no candidate receives at least 50% of the vote.  If it is used, candidates with the lowest vote totals are eliminated and the second choice preferences of their supporters are tabulated until one candidate eventually receives a majority of votes.

Speaking on VPR's Vermont Edition, Burlington Rep. Jason Lorber said he opposes the repeal effort because he says Instant Run Off voting has many advantages.

(Lorber) "It's a good system because we're looking at majority rule. We want the mayor to be elected by 50 percent of the voters. And that's exactly what we deliver. It's an efficient way of voting it gives voters more choices."

(Kinzel) Burlington Rep. Kurt Wright has some first hand experience with IRV.  He was the Republican candidate for mayor in 2009.  He finished first in the first two rounds of voting and then lost to Progressive Bob Kiss in the third and final round.

Wright says he wants to repeal IRV because he feels it creates the illusion of a run off between candidates that never took place in the real world:

(Wright) "I believe it produces a false majority. I think it's an artificial majority. ... In this one they are voting blind because they don't know who the real competitors are, who is going to finish first second or third."

(Kinzel) Wright says it would be better to hold a real run-off with the top two candidates several weeks after the general election and he doesn't think voter turnout will decline for the run off.

(Wright) "I believe Burlington voters are very tuned in to what's going on and would come back to vote to see who's going to lead the city for the next three years."

(Kinzel) But backers of IRV, like Rep. Lorber, argue that there are concrete examples of where voter turnout did decline significantly for a special run off election:

(Lorber) "The most recent run-off election in Burlington saw a decrease of over 50 percent, I believe, of the people who are turning out. So we want to be able to count people when they are voting."

(Kinzel) Supporters of the repeal movement also want to return to a previous system that calls for an actual run off if the leading candidate receives less than 40 percent of the overall vote.

Most backers of IRV oppose this approach because they say it undermines the concept of majority rule.

For VPR News, I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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