VOTE: Ranked Choice Voting (S.32) - March 29, 2023

The Senate took up S.32 on Wednesday with Senator Vyhovsky reviewing the bill. She noted that Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is used across the country and even internationally. In fact, the bulk of other democracies around the world used ranked choice voting. Here in the US, both conservative and liberal states use RCV. One reason for this is that millions of votes are not counted in the last round of presidential primaries as candidates drop out.

Another issue she pointed to is that the current voting process leads to “strategic voting” that undermines faith in the electoral process, as voters do not get to vote for the people they feel represent them best, but rather the one that has the best chance of winning. Vyhovsky added that RCV increases positive campaigning as candidates are competing to be peoples second or third choice.

The bill would implement a statewide RCV system by 2028 as it would take this long to get the Secretary of State’s Office and local town clerks aligned. However, if individual municipalities want to move ahead sooner, the bill would give them that opportunity. They could do this through either a public vote or a through the municipal legislative process.

The Senate Appropriation Committed acknowledged there was minimal cost with the program. They did strike the appropriation from the bill, however, and moved it into the budget instead. The appropriation was $100k for the Secretary of State to begin implementing this system.

Senator Wrenner raised several concerns about how votes would be counted in this RCV system. While she has historically supported of RCV, she expressed concern that the method for determining winners is each round is called the Hare quota, and it led to poor outcomes in the 2009 Burlington mayoral race as well as in a recent senate race in Alaska where the more preferred candidate lost in the second round. She argued that if they relied on the more widely accepted Droop quota, this would not have happened.

Wrenner also raised concerns about where the votes would be counted. Some RCV ballots would need to be taken to a central location; she was worried this could delay the results of the presidential primary for days. Additionally, individual towns may not know the results of their election for some time. However, she still supported the bill and hoped the study committee would look at the ballot counting and transportation issues.

Wrenner introduced an amendment to move to the Droop quota for determining winners in each round of RCV. Senator Hardy noted that there was unanimous consent from the House Government Operations Committee on this proposed amendment. The proposed method of counting ranked choice ballots is the most widely used around the world and the study committee would work on the logistics of this.

Senator Starr raised concerns about small towns that do not have eclectic vote tabulators. He worried that they might make the process more complicated. He felt that that the bill needed “more time.” Senator Ingalls indicated that he does not support his bill because he also feels like it is “being rushed” and wants more time to consider RCV. Vyhovsky noted that it is optional for municipalities to participate for local elections, as this only goes into effect for statewide elections in 2028.

The final vote was 23-7 in favor.


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