Ranked Choice Voting (S.32)

The Senate Government Operations Committee took testimony on S.32 Thursday, which introduces ranked choice voting for federal elections. Chairwoman Hardy announced that she will be changing how the Committee approaches this bill. The Secretary of State’s office has stated that it would be difficult to get Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) running by the 2024 presidential primary. Therefore, the bill will now push that timeline back to the 2026 federal primary. S.32 would also allow municipalities to use RCV, if they chose to do so, for local races.

Lauren Hibbert (Deputy Secretary of State) noted that the Secretary of State believes that RCV is the future, and they support using it for the 2026 congressional races. Hibbert believes that RCV should be used at the local level in 2024, because it would help educate voters on how the new system works. She also supports the creation of a summer study committee to look at rolling this out for other offices as well, and urged the Committee to create language that would address the logistical challenges of how to implement ranked choice voting.

Senator Clarkson wants to use RCV for the 2026 state elections, not just federal elections. She believes there could be a contested gubernatorial primary in 2026 which would generate a lot of interest. Hibbert wants to make sure potential candidates understand the system and make sure that the state is not doing too much too fast. There will need to be a lot of voter education on how ranked choice votes are tabulated, which will take “a lot of time.”

The Secretary of State wants to use one federal race to see how ranked choice voting works. She also hopes that multiple municipalities adopt ranked choice voting to help the public and town clerks get more familiar with the process. Hibbert also noted that the transportation of ballots is a major issue around election integrity, and they will be recommending law enforcement move the ballots.

Hilary Francis (Town Clerk, Brattleboro) stressed that there is a lot of education that needs to occur. She agreed that the original March 2024 deadline would be difficult to do, and that voters and Clerks themselves need to be educated on ranked choice processes. The Vermont Municipal Clerks and Treasurers Association supports moving the deadline to a March 2028 start date, but agreed that launching RCV at the federal level makes sense, this may help with the growing pains of implementing the program.

Another consideration is that funding for communities to educate the public will also be important. Additionally, many small towns hand count, which means that there will be a financial burden to shift for these small communities with the move to RCV (these ballots take longer to count by hand). The process for write-in candidates will likely need to change to account for RCV and there will be issues with races where there are more than 10 candidates, Dominion’s program does not allow for more than that on a ballot.

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