Ranked Choice Voting (S.32) - March 3, 2023

Legislative Counsel shared with the Senate Government Operations Committee a new strike-all amendment for S.32 that it pushed adoption of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) for presidential primaries in 2028. He went on to note that the new draft allows communities to adopt RCV for local elections. There is also a provision for a study committee.

The local opt-in provision would give towns two options for adopting RCV. One would be through a town wide vote. The other would be a vote from the town legislative body. Legislative counsel noted that towns need to have adopted Australian ballot first before they could use ranked choice voting.

Legislative counsel provided a brief overview of how RCV voting tabulation works. The first round is a simple majority vote. If there is no majority, then voters’ descending preferences are tallied until a majority is reached. In races with multiple winners the same process would repeat until the number of seats are filled.

The Secretary of State’s office will need to educate local election officers how to conduct RCV elections. The bill also appropriates $100K for grants to help localities implement the new system. The study committee described in the bill would also expire in 2024.

Lauren Hibbert (Deputy Secretary of State) and Will Senning (Director of Elections and Campaign Finance) also provided testimony on the changes to S.32. Hibbert shared her appreciation for moving the timeline for implementation to 2028. She noted that local elections happen at the local level and the Secretary of State’s office is generally not involved and does not receive or certify local election results.

Senning argued that RCV should be adopted by voters and not the legislative body of the town (like Burlington did). It is very rare to allow the legislative body to approve new voting systems. Senator Clarkson pointed out that allowing the legislative to adopt ranked choice voting is similar to what the legislature does at the state level. She sees it as a similar process whereby the people’s representatives, in this case the selectboard, adopt policies on their behalf. She questioned why it would be different to allow local legislative bodies to approve election changes. Senning responded that requiring voters to approve ranked choice voting could function as part of the voter education system. Another issue he brought up is that having two methods for approval could lead to a dichotomy where RCV is approved through one method and repealed through another.

Gwynn Zakov (Vermont League of Cities and Towns) agreed with Senning about require the voters to adopt Ranked Choice voting at the local level. This is partly because municipalities are responsible for their own elections, whereas the legislature is responsible for statewide ones.

Senning is also concerned that the charge of the study committee is too broad and wants it narrowed. Hibbert added that she wanted Joint Fiscal Office and Legislative Council to be on the study committee. She also would like to see money allocated towards this program.

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