IRV a success in Burlington, VT

by Jack Santucci // Published March 13, 2006

Residents of Burlington, Vermont last week elected their first mayor under instant runoff voting. The election - first of its kind in over 30 years - was a success.

True to the history of Burlington voting behavior, Progressive candidate Bob Kiss won a plurality on the first round. Not a majority. Under any other majority requirement, voters would have had to go back to the polls. But IRV builds the runoff into one election.

Republican Kevin Curley (29%) and two other independent candidates were eliminated because they received the fewest votes. Rather than being "wasted," ballots on which these candidates were ranked "1" still counted. Tabulators looked at the number "2" rankings, which moved Kiss from a plurality to majority.

Contradicting assertions that ranked ballots are "too complicated for the average voter," only 0.1% of ballots were invalid. That's only one in every thousand.

Here's FairVote's press release on the election:

Burlington, VT. - On Tuesday, March 7th, Burlington become the first major city in the US to elect their mayor using instant runoff voting (IRV) in the modern era.

Appearing at the polls to show public support for IRV, DNC Chairman Howard Dean, himself a Burlington voter, said, "I think instant runoff voting is really good. I'm delighted to be one of the relatively early cities that are using this, and I wanted to make a point that I think this is something that would be good for the country."

IRV is also boosted nationally by major figures such as Sen. John McCain, Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Sen. Barack Obama.

The story also attracted national attention in the press during the run-up to the election. A wire story on Burlington"s move toward greater democracy appeared in The Washington Times, and online at The Washington Post, LA Times, Boston Globe, USA Today, and many others.

Twelve U.S. jurisdictions use, have used or will use IRV.

The AP and several papers - from local to international - covered the election. Here's a press roundup six days later:

And in the blogosphere:

For more blog hits, check out Technorati's Burlington IRV query.

IRV was used sucessfully in 2004 and 2005 in San Francisco and has been gaining momentum as a good government reform. Instead of marking an "X" next to one candidate, voters rank them in order of choice. IRV uses voter rankings to simulate a series of runoff elections to determine a winner with a majority of the vote.

"With major successes in San Francisco, and now Burlington, instant runoff voting is gaining an aura of inevitability." said Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote. "IRV opens up our politics, and accomodates voter choice -that"s why it"s so appealing to people."