Burlington, VT just re-elected Progressive Party mayor Bob Kiss (yes, in Vermont we have a third major Party, for those of you who aren’t from here- they’ve pretty much been in control of Burlington since 1981 and since then the city has won numerous “Most Livable  City”, “Greenest City”, “Healthiest City” (etc, etc) awards, so say what you will, they get results- nationally recognized results).  Congrats certainly to the people up there; “Silent Bob” would certainly have been my choice if I were voting there.

Most impressively, Burlington’s mayoral race was conducted using Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) (also known as preferential voting) as has been their practice since 2006.  So, how’d the system do?  Was the election fair?  Did the candidate with the most support win?

With numbers being supplied by the Burlington Free Press (OK, I know, I shouldn’t consider them a reliable source for anything but fire-starter, but they’ve got the most thorough unofficial numbers I’ve found yet)- we learn that in the third round of IRV Kiss received 4,313 (51.5%) first place votes to Republican Kurt Wright’s 4,061 (48.5).  Vermont law requires 50% + 1 (a majority) to win.  In the initial vote tallies, Wright had 2,951 first place votes to Kiss’ 2,585, Andy Montroll’s (D) 1,497, Dan Smith’s (I) 1,306 and James Simpson’s (Green Party) 35.  That brakes down roughly to 35.2%, 30.8%, 17.8%, 15.6%, .004% respectively.  True, Wright “won” the first round by having the most first place votes, but because by law “winning” the election means having 50%+1 of the people prefer you, it’s clear that no one is the winner, yet.  So Smith and Simpson were eliminated and the votes for them were re-distributed so that in the second round of calculations Montroll did the best by picking up 491 votes from Smith and Simpson supporters (for a total of 1,988 or 23.7%), Kiss gained 396 votes (2,981 total now for 35.6%), Wright gained 343 votes (3,294 or 39.3%).  At this point Wright is still “winning” but has not won, not by a long shot.  So then Montroll’s votes get re-distributed (looking at the number two choice from those ballots that had listed him as number one and looking at the third choice from those ballots that had chosen his number two) (and looking further down the ballot for anyone won chose someone who at this point had already been eliminated).  So in the decisive third round of vote tallies, Kiss picked up 1,332 votes and Wright grabbed 767- respectively totaling 4,313 (51.5%) to 4,061 (48.5%).  For the first time a candidate has over 50% of the votes and is declared winner: congrats, Mr Mayor!

Immediately, Kurt Wright and the right wing mainstream media have picked-up on the bullshit line that IRV has somehow failed the voters because Wright “won” initially but lost as a result of the system’s workings.  Lets be clear and spell it out for Wright, WCAX TV, the Burlington Free Press, and any other’s who want to try this fuzzy line of reasoning: by law (rightfully) a candidate must have over 50% of the vote to “win”.  Obviously with three “left” candidates (Progressive Kiss, Democrat Montroll and Green Simpson) and two “right” candidates (Republican Wright and independent Smith- who I recognize would take exception to being considered “right” but whatever, it’s superfluous to my argument here) (and just not true anyway) the left’s vote was spread thinner and the right  centralized their first-place votes.  In a mere plurality voting system (i.e., who ever has the most first-place votes wins) this would certainly have given Wright the victory.  But this is exactly why IRV is so good, and so important, because this whole exercise demonstrates that if that had been the case- if Wright were elected with that initial 35.2% vote, the new Mayor of Burlington would be someone supported by 48.5% of the people- and not supported by 51.5% of the people.  48.5% to 51.5% is not a democratic victory by any definition.

So Wright and WGOP, er, WCAX can bitch and moan all they want- claiming to be the “winner” with less than 50%+1 of the vote is akin to saying you prefer the winter over the summer because you prefer warm weather.  IRV worked perfectly in service of democracy and the will of the voters.  Now comes the task of getting the rest of our State’s elections to function fairly as well.