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Bob and IRV

Mar 13, 2009
We wrote about Burlington, VT, progressive mayor Bob Kiss in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang on Feb 12. He was in a tough five-way race for a second term, despite the fact that he had a sterling first term in Burlington. He didn’t raise taxes in two of his three years in office, and he presided over an economy that saw much bigger wage gains and private-sector employment increases than the rest of the state. Nevertheless, credible Republican, Democrat, and Independent candidates all ran against Kiss. One can imagine the Democrat and, perhaps, Independent candidates acting as spoilers for Kiss’s candidacy, helping the Republican into office. Nevertheless, Kiss won by a majority 51.5 percent versus 48.5 percent.1

How so, you say, with five candidates? It was thanks to the wonder of Instant Runoff Voting, or IRV, which was applied for the second time in the Burlington election. With IRV, voters not only pick the candidate of their choice, they also state a second-place preference. When the votes are first counted, if no candidate wins a majority, IRV kicks in. The candidate with the lowest number of votes is dropped from the race and, in the recount, the stronger candidates retain their first-place votes and also pick up a vote for the ballots from the dropped candidates where they were listed as the second choice. In this way, Kiss, who polled 28 percent of the vote to the Republican’s 32 percent in the first round, picked up enough of the second-place votes from the Democrat’s and other ballots through successive rounds of instant runoff counts to win the majority.

IRV not only avoided the spoiler effect, it also conveyed a second blessing on the campaign. Fearful of losing the second-choice status on votes cast for their opponents, the campaigners were careful to conduct a civil, respectful campaign that managed to focus on the issues and not on personalities.

Both Obama and his erstwhile opponent McCain have come out in support of Instant Runoff Voting, which has been around in Australia and Ireland for years and is now spreading throughout the U.S.

Congratulations to Bob Kiss, and to the voters of Burlington for their farsighted wisdom in adopting the eminently sensible IRV.
1 Kiss re-elected by narrow margin, by John Briggs, from the Burlington Free Press, reprinted on FairVote, accessed Mar 8, 2009.
tags: Politics | Governance

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