Thursday, March 12, 2009

Burlington, Vermont, Elk Hunting, and Ranked Choice Voting

by Krist Novoselic, Chair of Fairvote and resident of Naselle, Washington

On March 3rd, Burlington Vermont had an RCV election. The mayor’s race shared a similar dynamic to the Pierce County Executive election. Burlington had five candidates and Pierce had four. Pierce had two Democrats, while Burlington had a Progressive Party along with a Democratic Party candidate – again similar.

The race went into an instant runoff and the incumbent mayor won with over 51 percent. Since they all vote at the polls, they knew the winner at 8:25pm.

It’s important to note how civil the campaigns were. A Democratic city councilor said the candidates were forthright and the race was, “the most respectful and informative campaign in Burlington in a long time.”

I advocate reforms like RCV out of altruism. The idea is to make the democratic experience more inclusive and compelling. It makes me feel good that the Burlington experience was so positive.

I get a lot of visitors down here on the mouth of the Columbia during elk hunting season. Last fall, most everybody told me how they were ready for the election to be over. It was like, “I’m sick of the TV ads!” They were tired of the negative campaigning. I even know PETA supporting vegans who grew weary with the election season - so the feeling was universal!

The Burlington experience is a clear reason of why RCV – there was a lot less negative campaigning. And as we’ve seen in San Francisco, rival candidates were actually endorsing each other.

Pierce voters knew how to do RCV but there could have been a stronger effort with telling why. And nowhere is this more apparent than with the county auditor’s Flash RCV tutorial. It asks, WHY RCV? And only answers with – because voters approved it in 2006.

It’s indicative of the sleeper attitude with the issue among election administrators in Pierce and Olympia.

But back to my hunter friends, I never got a chance to tell them about RCV. I was too busy making sure they cut me in when they came back from the butcher! I bet they’d perk up if they knew there was an election system that encourages positive campaigning.

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