50% plurality just a backdoor strategy to bring IRV back to Burlington

by Angela Chagnon

A Vermont IRV ballot

An issue that may come up on Burlington’s ballot for the upcoming March elections is a measure to change the Mayor’s race from the current 40% plurality to a 50% plurality vote.

Proponents of the 50% measure claim that the current 40% system will bring “spoilers” back to the political scene.  “Just think of the 2000 election where Gore and Nader split the majority vote, allowing Bush to win the White House with less than 48%,” proclaims the website of 50 Percent Matters, the group that led the fight to keep Instant Runoff Voting in Burlington.

The 40% plurality was put in place so that Burlington’s mayoral race would not need frequent expensive run-off elections, for the simple reason that a race with more than two contenders is not likely to end up with a 50% majority winner.  With the current system, a candidate must have 40% of the vote to be declared the winner.  Since the 40% system was implemented in the city, there has not been a run-off election for Burlington mayor in at least 25 years.

Instant Runoff Voting, supposedly designed to eradicate the non-existent run-off elections, was implemented in 2006.  IRV is credited with getting Burlington’s mayor, Bob Kiss, into office even though he did not have the majority vote.

Burlington residence quickly soured on IRV, and in March 2010, voters decided to eliminate the highly controversial voting system and return to the 40% plurality requirement.

“One candidate who lost the election, Andy Montroll, was preferred over all other candidates in a head-to-head matchup,” reads a report on IRV compiled by Anthony Gierzynski, Associate Professor of Political Science at UVM.  “That is a majority of voters ranked Montroll ahead of the winner Bob Kiss and ahead of the second place finisher, Kurt Wright, yet Montroll lost the election.”

Angry that their voting system was rejected, IRV proponents now want to require that mayoral candidates receive 50% of the vote to be declared the winner.  This will ensure run-off elections for most, if not every, mayoral race.  The groundwork will then be in place to re-introduce IRV to get rid of the pesky run-off elections.  Some say that this is a classic case of creating a problem just to implement a carefully crafted solution to control the voting system in Burlington.

Howard Dean is an ardent supporter of IRV, and lent his services to the 50 Percent Matters campaign to keep IRV in Burlington in 2010.  “I think the whole state should go to Instant Runoff Voting,” he said in a video featured on the 50 Percent Matters website.  “I think the idea of electing a governor in the legislature, or a lieutenant governor, is a mistake.”

Ironically, Dean’s statement that the 50% plurality system used to elect Vermont’s Governor and Lt. Governor is a “mistake” actually undermines the case for creating a 50% plurality system in Burlington. If one is a mistake, so is the other.

Hawaii is a state that has also struggled with the IRV issue, and an article in the Hawaii Free Press states it best:  “Because voters in the Dec 29 special election for Honolulu County Council Dist 1 elected a Republican, the billion dollar Progressives at Civil Beat have concluded the system of elections must be changed, “To prevent such an election in the future.'”

The article continues, ” Their solution to prevent anybody from displacing the “conscious, enlightened, and progressive” elite from its God-given position of power?  Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), an election scheme recycled from (where else) Berkeley, CA and Burlington, VT”