Instant runoff to be used in Burlington mayoral race

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(Host) There’s a lot of statewide interest in Burlington’s mayoral race tomorrow because voters will be using an instant runoff election system for the first time.

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz wants to conduct a comprehensive study of the IRV process to see if the system should be used on a statewide basis.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) When Burlington voters go to the polls to elect a new mayor, they’ll encounter a type of ballot that they’ve never seen before.

The ballot will ask voters to rank the candidates by preference and an instant run off system will be used if no candidate receives at least 50% of the vote. Here’s how it works.

The candidates with the lowest vote totals are eliminated and the second choice preferences of their supporters are tabulated until one candidate finally emerges with a majority total.

If your candidate is not eliminated, your vote for that person carries through to the next round of balloting.

IRV is used in a number of cities including San Francisco and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Jo LaMarche is the director of elections in Burlington. She thinks most voters understand the new system.

(LaMarche) “They’ve been seeing a lot of advertising. There’s been a lot of information in newspapers around the city. We did household mailing where a postcard was mailed to every household in the city of Burlington. So I think people are becoming more and more familiar with it.”

(Kinzel) Secretary of State Deb Markowitz is a strong supporter of IRV. She says the Burlington election offers an excellent opportunity to study this system.

(Markowitz) “We see the IRV vote as a great next step in the real study as to whether or not having a statewide IRV or some other system of majority election would make sense for Vermont.”

(Kinzel) If the IRV system works in Burlington without major problems, Markowitz wants lawmakers to direct her office to study the possibility of using it on a statewide basis.

(Markowitz) ” To really look at who used it, who didn’t use it. Where there demographic differences? One of the concerns that I’ve heard is that an IRV because of its complexity, because it’s not necessarily straight forward, that it actually discriminates against people who are less literate or poor or elderly. And we want to know – is that true to the extent that it may be true. Are there ways to mitigate that by ballot design and public education? There’s a lot we need to learn about it.”

(Kinzel) If no candidate receives 50% of the vote in the mayor’s race and the IRV system is implemented, city election officials say they’ll be able to tabulate the run off results in a matter of minutes.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier .

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