Instant runoff vote determines Kiss victory in Burlington

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(Host) For the first time in a Vermont election, “who to vote for” was a multiple choice question.

Burlington voters were asked to list not only their first choice for mayor, but their second, third, fourth and fifth, too.

Because no candidate received more than 50% of the vote, the number two choices were critical to the election.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Crowd sounds)

(Zind) A crowd gathered at Burlington City Hall Tuesday night to listen as the vote totals were announced. If any of the five mayoral candidates on the ballot had received more than 50% of the vote, this would have been like any other election night.

But frontrunner Progressive Bob Kiss polled just under 40%, triggering an instant runoff between Kiss and the next highest vote getter, Democrat Hinda Miller.

(Town Meeting official) “So if we could have your attention, Jo LaMarche is ready to do the instant runoff voting by rounds “

(Zind) The winner was determined by counting the number of ballots cast for losing candidates where Kiss or Miller was listed as the second choice.

From those ballots, Kiss was the second choice of the greatest number of voters, enough to earn him more than 50% percent of the votes.

When all was said and done, it was Kiss – 4,761 Miller – 3,986.

Thanks to an electronic vote counting system, the instant runoff process was done quickly, although it took a few moments for those in the room to understand the results that appeared on a large screen.


(Zind) In the weeks leading up to the election the city had launched a campaign of its own – helping voters understand how instant runoff works.

Burlington Election Director Jo LaMarche says the effort paid off.

(LaMarche) “I anticipated it to be more confusing for the voters. Basically what I was hearing over and over again throughout the day was, we get it’.”

(Zind) Burlington is the only city in the nation currently using instant runoff to elect a mayor. LaMarche says she’s fielded calls from around the country from city officials interested in how the system works.

Some Vermont legislators are also interested in using instant runoff voting for statewide elections. Senator James Condos supports the idea. Condos heads the Senate Government Operations Committee.

(Condos) “My intent is to hold a public hearing, some kind of public testimony next week, hopefully with Burlington election officials and party officials to see what they think of how it went, what were the problems are there any lessons learned and we’ll go from there.”

(Zind) Adopting instant runoff voting for statewide elections raises legal questions because under the Vermont Constitution the legislature is supposed to decide statewide races where no candidate receives 50% of the vote.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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