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June 07, 2010

City Council to Review 50 Percent Threshold in Mayoral Elections

Mayor_kiss_roundedWhen voters rejected instant runoff voting in March, they decided to return to the previous method of electing mayors— whoever receives 40 percent of the vote, or more, wins.

The City Council tonight will take up a measure to increase that threshold to 50 percent.

Councilors Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5) and Mary Kehoe (D-Ward 6) will introduce the resolution, which would amend the city's charter to require "that a mayor be elected by a majority of the voters at the annual City Meeting or in a subsequent election(s) if no candidate receives a majority of voters cast at the annual City Meeting."

The resolution asks the council's charter change committee to hold hearings on the idea and come back to the full council by August 9. In the March election, all Progressive and Democratic candidates (including incumbents) supported the use of instant-runoff voting, while the Republicans did not. Independent Karen Paul (Ward 6) did not support instant-runoff voting, but did support moving to a 50-percent majority.

The repeal of IRV was defeated soundly in Wards 4 and 7 (the New North End), while barely surviving in the city's other five wards.

Ever since the financial scandal involving Burlington Telecom first surfaced, there have been a steady calls for Mayor Bob Kiss to resign, as there is no legal way to remove him from office until the next mayoral election in 2012.

However, the charter change committee is also considering changes to the city's election laws that would allow the either the impeachment, or recall, of the mayor and individual city councilors.

Whether to keep instant-runoff voting was seen as a partial referendum on Mayor Kiss himself, not just on how votes are counted in the Queen City. Voters approved use of IRV in 2005, and it went into effect for the 2006 mayoral election. It was used again in 2009. Kiss won both elections. The difference is that in 2006, Kiss led his challenges in all rounds before surpassing 50 percent.

The results of the 2009 election sparked an outcry that IRV had somehow robbed Republican Kurt Wright, or even Democrat Andy Montroll, of the mayor's office. Wright led Kiss after the tally of first choices and after the elimination of the fourth and fifth place finishers. But with the field reduced to three, Wright remained short of a 50-plus percent majority. When third place finisher Montroll was eliminated, Kiss accumulated a large share of Montroll supporters' second-place votes and defeated Wright 52 to 48 percent.

Also tonight, councilors will vote on the mayor's candidates to head up the city's various departments. Of the re-appointments, the most controversial is Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold.

Leopold is not expected to win a positive vote from the council, but the vote would merely be a public rebuke of the mayor's top aide as Kiss can keep Leopold in that position without council approval.

Last fall, city councilors voted 8-6 to put Leopold on paid leave while his actions, and those of BT's leadership team, were investigated. Mayor Kiss vetoed the measure, and the council could not muster a two-thirds vote to override his veto.

City Council President Bill Keogh said he expects Leopold will only garner the support of three, maybe four, councilors.

"There is not a lot of trust in the administration on the part of the council, by and large," said Keogh. "That's why you see all of these ad hoc committees on the Moran Plant and on Burlington Telecom."

Leopold, said Keogh, is a major source of that distrust and many councilors say they cannot be sure they are receiving a straight answer from Leopold when they ask him questions about the budget or other city operations.

"It all started with Burlington Telecom, but it's gone beyond that now," said Keogh.

Uh, right. Andy Montroll was robbed in 2009 because he finished third in first choice rankings and finished third when the field was reduced to three. And Kurt Wright was robbed because he lost to Kiss in an instant runoff and would presumably have lost in a traditional runoff.

Remind us -- how do runoffs change those results for those losing candidates? Montroll now finishes second in the first round - wow, magic! Wright suddenly has more support than Kiss -presto!

Also, remind us of the "slim margins" IRV won in Wards, 1,2,3. If that's slim, then the US doesn't have an obesity problem after all.

JB, IRV's support diminished by double digit percentages in every ward. More importantly, you are now talking about a footnote in Burlington's history as if it were a present day consideration.

Good time for a poll.
All those Burlington residents in favor of retaining Jonathan Leopold, signify by responding to this blog by saying Aye.
All those Burlington residents not in favor of retaining Jonathan Leopold, signify by responding to this blog by saying Nay.
I vote Nay.
Lets load up this page with votes.
7 days staff, you have been appointed as the vote counters for this poll, and no IRV will not be used, but 50% plus 1 will be the deciding factor.

Ha, the issue that just won't die it seems...

". . . and would presumably have lost in a traditional runoff."

How the hell do you know that? Your "presumption" is exactly what's wrong with IRV: REAL runoffs might not have the same results as "instant" runoffs. Because real runoffs are . . . uh, you know . . . real.

The dynamics of a real election campaign between two people are not the same as the hypothetical run-off election that is IRV.

My "presumption" is that Wright would have beat the pants off Mayor Charisma in a real runoff.

The people spoke. IRV as a voting method barely squeaked through in 2005. It was tried in 2 elections. Burlington voters decided they didn't like it and repealed it by a wider margin than the one it was adopted by. Fair and square. Stop your whining.

Shay Totten said: "In the March election, all Progressive and Democratic candidates (including incumbents) supported the use of instant-runoff voting, while the Republicans did not."

Where's the basis for that claim? Vermont has a secret ballot! That means that neither the voter's identity AND political party are tied to their ballot in any way. Ballots do not have identifying marks tying them to a voter.

Here's what a Burlington VT voter wrote about WHY the city repealed IRV: "IMHO, Mr. Barlow, IRV is finished statewide, because the problems with IRV are known now. KURT WRIGHT DID NOT LEAD THE CAMPAIGN TO REPEAL IRV, that's sour grapes on the part of losers who are looking for a way to diminish the non-partisan repeal and the fact that IRV is it's own worst enemy! Zuckerman blames Mayor Kiss? The mayor was hurt the most by IRV because it robbed him of a clean win, and voter confidence, at a time when he inherited serious problems and needed public confidence to weather the economic storms. IRV was repealed, with a vote of no-confidence that increased in every ward in the city, leading to a real majority win for repeal."

More details on the voter turnout:

7-D article went on to list the 2010 vote in each ward. When you contrast the 2010 repeal vote to the 2005 vote that implemented IRV, you see that in EVERY WARD opposition to IRV increased significantly.

Ward 1, 180/ 264 = 47% increase
Ward 2, 150/ 185 = 24% increase
Ward 3, 210/ 292 = 39% increase
Ward 4, 721/ 1203 = 67% increase
Ward 5, 395/ 545 = 38% increase
Ward 6, 329/ 477 = 45% increase
Ward 7, 630/ 1006 = 60% increase

@Joyce: In response to your comment about how I know those candidates supported IRV: Simply put, I asked them. I polled all the candidates on the topic of IRV, and included that in my column on February 17.

Here's a link:

Here's what I wrote: "All 12 Democratic and Progressive council candidates on the March ballot support IRV; only the two Republicans and one independent do not."

Now, whether they voted the same when they got into the booth, that's a different story.

JB, the reason that Andy Montroll was "robbed" in the 2009 election is that he was preferred by a majority of voters over any other candidate (Kiss, Wright, Smith) when voters were asked to choose between the two. Voters preferred Montroll over Kiss by 590 votes, over Wright by 930 votes and over Smith by I can't remember how many.

Now it was no good reason for ditching the Ranked-Order Ballot. But IRV is neither the only nor the best way to tabulate those ranked ballots. And the 2009 Mayoral race in Burlington is a case study for how Instant Runoff Voting *failed* to accomplish the very goals for with it was adopted. It's an object lesson.

The problem with IRV in 2009 is that it considered the wrong pair of candidates in the final round. The final round left out the champion and was a contest between two losers.

The correct way for the very same ballots to be tabulated that would default directly to the "simple majority" of the two candidate race is named after "Condorcet". Maybe you want to look it up.

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