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February 02, 2010

Burlington Group Wants to Keep Mayoral Election As Is

50Percent ** UPDATED & CORRECTED BELOW **

A grassroots group calling itself 50 Percent Matters! launched efforts Monday to keep the way Burlington elects its mayor intact.

Though careful to say its members are not uniformly supportive of instant-runoff voting, Rep. Jason Lorber (D-Burlington), the group's co-chair, said members do believe the city's mayor should be elected by at least 50 percent of the voters. The other chairperson is Rep. Mark Larson (D-Burlington).

Late last year, a group of residents successfully gathered enough signatures to put a question on the March Town Meeting Day ballot asking residents to repeal instant-runoff voting in the Queen City.

"We like the idea of our mayor being elected with 50 percent of the vote, or more," said Lorber. We're here today with a broad coalition. "Democracy thrives best when more than 50 percent of the vote counts. Having an election with only 40 percent of the vote undermines democracy."

The group includes 17 elected officials, most of them Democrats, along with several Progressives. As well, the Vermont League of Women Voters, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group and Common Cause of Vermont.

"The league believes that receiving only 40 percent of the vote is fundamentally undemocratic," said Keri Toksu, of the Vermont League of Women Voters. The league has supported IRV in local and statewide elections.

Democratic State Representatives Bill Aswad, Mark Larson, Jason P. Lorber, Kesha Ram, Rachel Weston and Suzi Wizowaty signed on to the group, along with Progressive David Zuckerman. State Senators Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) and Ed Flanagan (D-Chittenden) are supportive, as are Democratic city councilors Joan Shannon and Russ Ellis. School commissioners Vincent Brennan, Kathy Chasan, Fred Lane, Thomas Fleury, Keith Pillsbury and Amy Werbel.

The group has hired New North End resident Helen Hossley as its campaign manager, and is just beginning to raise money. It has $100 in the bank.

Lorber said not everyone in the group supports IRV, but they do support the idea of 50 percent of voters choosing mayor rather than electing the mayor with only 40 percent.

Toksu said her group does support IRV as it allows for greater voter participation in a runoff election by asking voters to rank their choices on election day. "It's shown that only about a third of the people who vote on election day will turn out for a runoff," said Toksu.

In 2005, Burlington voters overwhelmingly supported the move to elect the mayor via instant-runoff voting — by a nearly two to one margin. Prior to 2005, Burlington voters did approve a non-binding referendum, by a similar margin, to implement IRV.

After the 2005 vote, Burlington voters also approved a non-binding referendum to call on the legislature to have the governor elected by IRV.

After the announcement, Dave Hartnett, a founder of the Repeal IRV group in Burlington, said he personally is not opposed to having a higher threshold for electing mayor than 40 percent.

"I think that's something the city council could address, and they could set a higher number if they wanted," said Hartnett. The next mayoral election isn't until 2012.

His group has raised about $2000 to date.

With outside groups like VPIRG and Common Cause joining in the fight to keep IRV intact, it's clear that the March ballot item is drawing the attention of more than just Burlington residents.

Similarly, if you look closely at the people who have signed up in support of repealing  IRV in Burlington you'll see plenty of names who do not live in Burlington: Republican State Reps Patti Komline, Greg Clark, Heidi Scheurmann, Sen. Diane Snelling, along with plenty of non-residents who own businesses in Burlington.

Conspicuously absent is the man who inspired the petition drive — Republican State Rep. Kurt Wright. Wright lost the mayor's race last year to Progressive Bob Kiss, after leading in the first two rounds of IRV. Many of his supporters cried foul.

A series of upcoming forums will be held at neighborhood planning assemblies throughout the city. As well, Seven Days and Channel 17 will host a debate about IRV on Thursday, February 18 inside the City Hall Auditorium. The event will take place from 7-8:30 p.m.

** UPDATE & CORRECTION **

While at the Statehouse this week, I spoke with several lawmakers whose names are listed on the "Repeal IRV" petition. Guess what? They didn't sign their names onto the site. Which make sense since Rep. Heidi Scheuermann's name is spelled wrong. Whomever typed it in spelled it "Heide Scheurmann". Oy vey.

"While I do not support Instant Runoff Voting and think Burlington made a mistake in passing it, I also do not live in Burlington and as chair of the Stowe Select Board, believe in local control," she told Seven Days.

"Bill Aswad, Mark Larson, Jason P. Lorber, Kesha Ram, Rachel Weston and Suzi Wizowaty"

These people need to become honest with themselves and the voters and switch to the Progs.

Did they hold their meeting in the same broom closet as that "citizens who support BT" group?

50% via IRV is not the same as 50% in a traditional election, and equating the two is not intellectually honest.

There are like 6 city councilors running for re-election in March, and none of them except for Ellis is joining a side in this. I can understand that it is a voter initiative, not a councilor initiative, but you'd think city councilors would weigh in--or better, campaign--on such an important part of the election system. What happened to the politicians who took a stance on issues and ran on them? If IRV is accused of making elections too congenial, then why are council elections so tame as well?

And the only challenger taking a side is of course no coincidence, Kurt Wright. Kurt is taking one out of the national Republican strategy of tying statewide-initiatives to elections.

Um, actually 50 percent *doesn't* matter in IRV. Hate to point this out to Jason Lorber, but a candidate can't be elected under IRV with 50 percent of the vote. A majority is over 50 percent - 50 percent plus one, in other words. If a candidate got exactly 50 percent, a second round would be triggered.
I agree that there's some intellectual dishonesty going around, plus a healthy amount of misunderstanding.
Plurality is simplest.

Paul Decelles is up for re-election and he is campaigning to repeal IRV.

A system that uses either 40% or 50% would certainly be better than the current IRV system that elected a mayor with only 29% first place votes.

@Dale The other candidates only had 33% and 23% of the vote, too. That doesn't seem like a sound basis for their election.

40% sucks! But then, Bernie would never have been elected Mayor. Ah well. Group hug!

The big problem with irv is that it is centerlized. they are taking the job away from the ward clerks and there is no paper trail. After a vote the ward clerk does a print out with IRV this does not happen. the mayors admin is doing the IRV results. When you a ward clerk and run for office you can't be the ward clerk for the vote. If we vote to keep IRV we need people OUTSIDE the mayor admin to the IRV results. What is up 50 percent maters, wow. I don't where they get 50 percent. To me this is a joke. we have a mayor with 29 percent.

Loyal, there's a complete paper trail. if a recount is necessary, there are the paper ballots available to do it.

i'm not going to go over again (and again and again, as if either side is willing to listen) what *actually* did go wrong with the IRV election in 2009 (and it wasn't that Kurt Wright was not elected). and i'm not going over again and again how Plurality Rule is *worse*, from the POV of majority rule than IRV (the "One person, Two votes" people don't want to listen either).

we'll let both your sides chant your slogans back and forth until March 2. then one side or the other is going to lose, and the side that loses will wish we had Condorcet over whatever you're gonna get. and the side that wins can have all of their *legitimate* concerns addressed with the ranked ballot and Condorcet tabulation.

so, just like the Two-party system (what we wanted to avoid by adopting a ranked ballot), this coming March 2, we have to choose between Dumb and Dumber. nice choice.

Update & Correction: I just posted this on the blog, but thought I would add it in the comments section since a few folks have taken an interest in the post. Cheers, Shay

While at the Statehouse this week, I spoke with several lawmakers whose names are listed on the "Repeal IRV" petition. Guess what? They didn't sign their names onto the site. Which make sense since Rep. Heidi Scheuermann's name is spelled wrong. Whomever typed it in spelled it "Heide Scheurmann". Oy vey.

"While I do not support Instant Runoff Voting and think Burlington made a mistake in passing it, I also do not live in Burlington and as chair of the Stowe Select Board, believe in local control," she told Seven Days.

What? So now the IRV supporters have sunk to the low of fraudulently adding people's names to their list?

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