By Guy Page
As a result of Election Day last Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers control the Vermont House of Representatives more firmly than ever. And that’s not good news for supporters of ranked choice-voting.
Vermont Progressives love ranked choice voting, A/K/A Instant Runoff Voting. But Vermont Democrats and Republicans give it the cold shoulder. Among sponsors of three ranked-choice bills introduced in the 2021-22 Vermont Legislature, the only Republican was a libertarian who has since resigned. Each of the three Democrats were left-leaning even by Vermont standards, with one endorsed by the Vermont Progressive Party.
All three parties understand the same stark political reality: ranked choice voting typically helps Progressives and other “alternative” parties. Vermont Democrats, now holding 93 seats in the Vermont House, have no interest in surrendering in the name of ‘electoral reform’ a single hard-earned seat to the Progressives, Republicans, Libertarians, Vegetarians, or anybody else.
Under the current electoral system, the candidate who gets the most votes wins. Pretty simple to understand and a pretty attractive status quo to the party in power, or to the two parties used to swapping power back and forth.
But under ranked choice voting, a candidate must receive 50% or more to win outright. If he/she just gets a plurality – like the 33% Republican Kurt Wright won in the Burlington 2009 mayoral race – the least popular candidate is eliminated and his voters’ second choices are divvied up among the remaining candidates. That’s how Progressive Bob Kiss was re-elected mayor over Wright despite finishing four points behind Wright.
So how has that worked out in real-life elections? About the same as in Burlington.
In ranked-choice Maine, a conservative congressional incumbent in 2018 won the most votes yet ended up losing to a liberal. Ditto Australia, where in 2010 liberals won 38% of the votes, conservatives 43%, but liberals took legislative control under ranked-choice voting.
There’s a reason the famously left-leaning Daily Kos published an op-ed headlined, “Ranked Choice Voting is a Progressive Issue.”
“Vermont lawmakers expected to reconsider ranked-choice voting,” WCAX reported November 10. The story cited unidentified Vermont lawmakers who “expet to consider a look at ranked choice voting.”
The WCAX headline aside, ranked choice voting wasn’t popular among potential Democratic sponsors. Here are the combined sponsors of the three bills:
Sen. Andrew Perchlik – Progressive/Democrat
Sen. Christopher Pearson – Progressive/Democrat
Sen. Anthony Pollina – Progressive
Rep. Laura Sibilia – Independent
Rep. Emilie Kornheiser – Democrat endorsed by the Vermont Progressive Party
Rep. Curtis McCormack – liberal Democrat
Rep. Logan Nicoll – liberal Democrat
Rep. Kelly Pajala – Independent
Rep. Patrick Seymour – Republican (resigned)
Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky – Progressive
Rep. Laura Sibilia – Independent
Ranked choice voting may well be introduced again in 2023. But it’s unlikely to proceed far, unless the leaders of the huge bloc of Democrats somehow decide to change Vermont election law in a way that will threaten their top position among Vermont parties.
Categories: News Analysis