Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Burlington ballot measure to repeal instant runoff voting draws letters to editor


Burlington Vermont voters speak out about ballot measure to repeal instant runoff voting. On March 2nd, voters will get to make their voices heard at the ballot box.

The Burlington Free Press has 5 pages of letters to the editor both in favor of and opposed to the March 2nd ballot measure to repeal instant runoff voting (IRV)

Letters to the Editor: Instant Runoff Voting Tuesday, February 23, 2010

IRV system open to manipulation

I am responding to the article on Feb. 2 titled "Group rallies IRV support." There has been much published about the two sides of this argument. Kurt Wright won on the first two ballots last year for the mayor's race. It wasn't until the third cycle that Mayor Kiss was re-elected. This shows that the IRV system can be manipulated, especially in a town as left as Burlington. I think whoever gets the most votes, wins, period.

I have one question to ask this group: Did you all vote for Bill Clinton in the 1990s? I'll bet most of you did. Both times he was elected with less than 50 percent of the nations' vote. Nuff said!


IRV confirms value in improving democracy

The League of Women Voters of Vermont is one of 11 state leagues that have studied instant runoff voting (IRV) and reached a position of support. Burlington's experience with IRV has confirmed its value as an improvement to our democracy, and we strongly oppose the repeal of IRV.

A charter amendment petition is being proposed in the city of Burlington to repeal IRV and the majority requirement for electing a mayor in the first round of voting. Abandoning the principle of majority rule and substituting a plurality of 40 percent can attract spoilers who split the vote, and allow a candidate who 60 percent of the voters like least to be declared a winner.

The possibility of a separate runoff election costs voters time, money and participation, so if there is no candidate who achieves 40 percent of the vote in the first round, a separate runoff would be necessary. IRV is designed to preserve the majority rule, and the sanctity of one person, one vote without the burden of a second election.

It is unlikely that using IRV changed the results of the 2009 mayoral elections, a
concern of those who wish to repeal it. The ballots show that in a runoff between the top two finishers -- Wright and Kiss -- the majority of voters preferred Kiss. But the fairness of the voting system should never be judged based on whether a particular candidate is elected. The principle of majority rule is what really matters.

And without a majority victory threshold, we can't be assured of a democratic outcome.

The League of Women Voters urges a "no" vote on the town meeting ballot question to repeal IRV.

For more information on IRV, see the FAQs on our special Web site:

To help the league defend IRV and uphold majority rule in Burlington, please contact us at:
Marge Gaskins is president of the Champlain
Valley League of Women Voters.

Keep IRV, vote 'no' on Question 5

Thank you for highlighting Question No. 5 on the Burlington ballot (Comment & Debate, Feb. 9). The application of IRV in 2006 and in 2009 has sparked some very interesting discussion and debate on voting systems. IRV benefited one candidate. Condorcet would have benefited another. Plurality would have benefited another. As it turns out there is no perfect voting system.

Indeed, the proponents for the charter change make some strong arguments for repealing IRV. However, the alternative proposed by Question No. 5 would allow a mayor to be elected with just over 40 percent of the vote. In a city with three strong parties and a fiercely independent electorate, a 40 percent threshold would limit debate at best and spoil elections at worst.

To preserve majority rule, vote "no" on No. 5.

Don't forget to read the fine print

Question No. 5 on the March ballot doesn't just try to kill instant runoff voting (IRV) in Burlington. It also dismantles the current law requiring that a mayoral candidate win with at least 50 percent of the vote. They think 40 percent is enough.

That's the fine print that No. 5 supporters try not to discuss. They just want to attack IRV. Personally, I support IRV and am happy to discuss my views on it and how it upholds majority rule, gives voters more choices without a spoiler problem, and increases voter participation, among other benefits.

I also think that 50 percent matters. It keeps our leaders accountable to the majority, not just allowing them to sneak into office with 40 percent.

Many No. 5 supporters say we should discuss this 40 percent bit after the election. I find that disturbing. Let's not duck the issue or say it doesn't matter.

To find out why the League of Women Voters, VPIRG, and most Burlington elected officials urge a "no" vote, please visit
The writer is a
Democratic state representative from Burlington and co-chairman of 50% Matters.

Restore confidence to city government

On March 2, Burlington voters have an opportunity to decide the fate of instant runoff voting. Burlington voters must restore confidence in city government and the process we use to choose our elected officials.

Supporters of IRV believe in this methodology. But their arguments are as flawed as the IRV algorithm itself. After two elections what more proof do we need? I urge residents to vote "yes" on this ballot item. Burlington voters must decide on the merits of the process and not on how they believe the outcome of IRV will benefit their party or candidate.

No longer so sure about IRV system

I signed a petition to bring IRV back to the voters for re-evaluation. I had voted for IRV, and now I wasn't sure. Because so many people were upset about it, and there was a critical crisis of confidence in our city government, I thought IRV needed wide public discussion.

Expert analysts have determined that IRV can produce a false majority, voting paradoxes, and perverse outcomes. It seems that Burlington's 2009 mayoral election is a case study of that. We must restore confidence in our city government, and that begins with simple, straightforward elections.

Burlington had a traditional "one affirmative vote for the candidate of your choice" system with a 40 percent minimum threshold for many, many years. It is time tested, and it has the confidence of voters. We elected mayors of different parties, and never needed a run-off election.

I'm all for doing cool things, but IRV has hurt the office of mayor and our city badly, and we need to admit our mistakes and move forward together.

Keep voting simple. Vote yes on No. 5 to eliminate IRV.

Belief in IRV needs sense of humor

You need a good sense of humor to buy the argument that instant runoff voting (IRV) provides a majority winner -- as claimed by the pro-IRV forces. In fact, in 2009 Bob Kiss was in third place in the voters' preferences until the unique calculations were performed.

A system which provides strange results, and which most voters do not fully understand, is not a valid, democratic method for selecting a mayor. Its complexity explains why only 27 percent of registered voters came to the polls in 2009.

We need to return to the method used for many years in Burlington -- and which continues to be used across Vermont and in most communities in the country. It is simple and straight forward and truly reflects the voters' choice.

Vote "yes" on ballot item No. 5 to repeal IRV


IRV ensures true majority

On March 2, Burlingtonians will choose either to continue instant runoff voting (IRV) for mayor or to return to the (somewhat bizarre) 40 percent rule of old. The real question is whether winning means getting at least 50 percent of the votes, or whether winning means getting the most votes, even if it is less than 50 percent.

If you believe that when one candidate gets 15 percent and the other candidates each get less, the candidate with 15 percent should win even if the other 85 percent of voters want someone else, then vote against IRV.

If you believe the winner should have at least 50 percent, then vote for IRV. IRV is simple -- you rank the candidates 1-2-3-etc. The genius of IRV is that with that simple ranking, the ballot first asks who you want for mayor. If more than 50 percent of the voters choose one candidate, that candidate wins. Then the ballot asks: if no candidate gets 50 percent, and your candidate isn't one of the two vote-getters who go to the runoff, who will you vote for in the runoff? Then it asks: if neither of those candidates is in the runoff, who will you vote for? And it does all this with the simple one- two-three ranking.

IRV ensures at least a 50 percent vote for the winner. It is cheaper and more democratic than an actual runoff, since voter turnout tends to be lower for runoff elections. 50 percent matters -- vote No on Question 5 in Burlington.


IRV manipulates the vote count

Voters be prepared for the confusion of Question No. 5 regarding instant runoff voting on the March ballot. Initially, for me, the double question was an unanswerable quandary because yes, I agree with repealing IRV, and no, I do not support decreasing the percentage of votes "to at least 40 percent" to determine the winner.

Here it is: "Shall Sec. 5 of the City Charter be amended to eliminate IRV and to decrease the percentage of votes needed to elect mayor from more than 50 percent majority to at least 40 percent of the votes?"

The second part of the question is misleading.

It suggests that "40 percent of the votes" is something new; that we would be lowering our standards to vote in a mayor with only 40 percent of the vote. Not so, we have always had low standards -- 40 percent has always produced a winner! Who knew? So really, Question No. 5 is much simpler than it appears. It actually is -- do you think Burlington should return to its historical way of voting?

Apparently, getting IRV repealed is just the first step; changing the 40 percent to 50 percent can be adjusted at a later time, if voters so choose.

Without attending a panel discussion to hear both sides of the debate and to get clarification of the question, I would have skipped over it. It is that confusing.

Now, after hearing well presented positions on both sides, I will vote yes on 5 -- to repeal IRV. After all, do we really want to elect another mayor by manipulating the count? Mayor Kiss only received 29 percent of the votes.


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Instant runoff voting system not living up to promise - Burlington Vermont

After four years of using Instant runoff voting, Burlington voters have discovered that it doesn't live up to the talking points. The 2009 mayoral election was the last straw for voters: IRV did not provide a majority winner, it was not the same as a real runoff, and it did not provide a clearer choice to voters. As a result - 2000 voters have signed a petition to put an end to instant runoff voting in Burlington.

Instant runoff voting system not living up to promise
By Maurice Mahoney • Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Instant runoff voting was presented to Burlington by Terry Bouricius and other proponents in 2004 as an improved method of voting. We were told that instant runoff voting would provide a true preference of the majority of voters and would be an improvement over the existing system, which called for a runoff in the mayoral election if no candidate received at least 40 percent of the vote. Since there had never been a need for a runoff in the Burlington election this seemed like a solution for a nonproblem.

In the 2005 March election many people were absorbed with the Y/Moran plant issue and paid little attention to the IRV question on the ballot. The only time Burlington residents voted on IRV for the mayor's office was 2005 and they approved the item with little or no discussion.

Now we have had four years to experiment with instant runoff voting and evaluate it based on our experience. Question 5 asking Burlington voters to repeal IRV came about as a result of a citizen's petition supported by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.

This broad based group of voters has come to the conclusion that IRV has not lived up to its promise.

First, it does not create a real majority. The IRV "majority" is a manufactured number after adding third place votes. When an incumbent mayor can be declared the majority winner after receiving 29 percent of first place votes, something seems goofy about the system.

Secondly, IRV does not have a real runoff. In a real runoff election, people know the two candidates and can make an informed decision. Under IRV you guess who might be in the runoff. It's Vegas voting and you might have a better chance at bingo.

IRV proponents say their system provides a clearer choice of the voters' preference. But in the 2009 election, Andy Montroll had more first and second place votes than either Kurt Wright or Bob Kiss and he came in third.

The election of 2009 left voters confused and angry, distrustful of a voting system that seemed to defy logic and the will of the majority. Even the IRV created "majority" was not a majority of the total votes cast for mayor.

The new system seemed to favor incumbents and throw out majority preference. How could you possibly declare 29 percent of first place votes a majority? Is it any wonder that people are saying they want a chance to give their opinion of this system now that we have tried it?

More than 2,000 Burlington voters have signed a citizens' initiative, the very essence of our democracy, to have their voice heard again. That initiative is Question 5: Repeal instant runoff voting and restore a true runoff system if Burlington ever needs it in a mayoral race.

The IRV proponents try to cloud the issue and distract voters with chatter about 50 percent matters. Interestingly, the councilors and Legislators telling you how important 50 percent is do not have a 50 percent provision in their own elections and have never complained.

So maybe it doesn't matter that much. What does matter is that the people of Burlington have a voting system which they understand and have faith in.

What does matter is that our voting system is understandable for everyone and doesn't have a built in bias or angle that favors anybody. Vote Yes on No. 5 and repeal IRV.

Maurice Mahoney of South Burlington is a former Democratic Burlington city councilor.

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Instant Runoff Voting Debate Question - Disenfranchisement? Vermont

Instant runoff voting debate in Vermont. Bianca Slota of XCAX challenges instant runoff voting support based on the studies showing voter disenfranchisement with IRV. Supporter denies.

This is a case of sticking to talking points even when evidence and several studies refute those pro instant runoff voting talking points.

There's a reason that instant runoff voting has been around for decades yet it is very rare in the US. Jurisdictions adopt IRV based on the talking points, then they ditch it when they find out that it doesn't work as advertised and makes voting more complex.

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Instant runoff voting debate in Burlington - utterly fascinating

Even advocates of instant runoff voting have trouble explaining how IRV works. Watch this video of the IRV debate in Burlington Vermont. You'll get an idea of what it would be like for candidates, pollworkers and GOTV (Get Out The Vote) activists to explain instant runoff voting to voters.

IRV Repeal Debate (Burlington Vermont) Instant Runoff Voting is clearly confusing when the spokesperson for Instant Runoff Voting from the League of Women Voter does not understand how votes are tallied.

Notice the struggle? Even with hand gestures they can't do it.

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