2009 Burlington mayoral election

The city of Burlington, Vermont held a mayoral election on March 3, 2009. This was the second mayoral election since the city's 2005 approval of instant-runoff voting (IRV).[1] The incumbent mayor Bob Kiss, who had served since 2006, successfully won reelection on the Vermont Progressive line.[2]

2009 Burlington mayoral election
Flag of Burlington, Vermont (1990-2017).jpg
← 2006 March 3, 2009 2012 →
Nominee Bob Kiss Kurt Wright
Party Progressive Republican
First round count 2,585 (28.8%) 2,951 (32.88%)
Final round count 4,313 (51.51%) 4,061 (48.50%)

Nominee Andy Montroll Dan Smith
Party Democratic Independent
First round count 2,063 (22.98%) 1,306 (14.55%)
Final round count eliminated eliminated

Mayor before election

Bob Kiss

Elected Mayor

Bob Kiss

Unlike in the city's first IRV mayoral election three years prior, however, Kiss was neither the plurality winner (Republican candidate Kurt Wright) nor the Condorcet winner (Democratic candidate Andy Montroll).[3][4] This led to a controversy about the use of IRV in mayoral elections,[5] culminating in a successful 2010 citizen's initiative repealing IRV's use by a vote of 52% to 48%.[6][7][8] Ranked-choice voting would thus remain unused in Burlington until 2021, when voters again adopted IRV for all city council elections (but not mayoral ones) by a vote of 64% to 36%.[9]

Instant-runoff voting in BurlingtonEdit

The city of Burlington, Vermont approved IRV for use in mayoral elections with a 64% vote in 2005,[1] at a time when IRV was only used in a few local elections in the United States.[10] The 2006 Burlington mayoral race was decided after two rounds of IRV tallying, selecting candidate Bob Kiss of the Vermont Progressive Party (VPP). In the election, Kiss prevailed over opponents Hinda Miller, Democrat, and Kevin Curley, Republican. With his election Kiss became the second member of the VPP to be elected to the office (Peter Clavelle was the first).


  • Bob Kiss (P), incumbent mayor seeking second term
  • Andy Montroll (D), current City Councilor
  • Dan Smith (I), lawyer
  • James Simpson (G), owner of human-powered transportation services company in Burlington
  • Kurt Wright (R), current City Councilor and State Representative


Unlike Burlington's first IRV mayoral election in 2006, the mayoral race in 2009 was decided in three rounds. Bob Kiss won the election, receiving 28.8% of the vote in the first round, and receiving 48.0% in the final round (which made up 51.5% of the ballots which had not been exhausted), defeating final challenger Kurt Wright (who received more votes than Kiss in the earlier rounds, but only received 45.2% in the final round).

Burlington mayoral election, 2009 (Summary analysis)
Party Candidate Maximum
Share in
Maximum votes
First round votesTransfer votes
Progressive Bob Kiss 3 4,313 48.0%
Republican Kurt Wright 3 4,061 45.2%
Democratic Andy Montroll 2 2,554 28.4%
Independent Dan Smith 1 1,306 14.5%
Green James Simpson 1 35 0.4%
Write-in 1 36 0.4%
Exhausted votes 606 6.7%

The elimination rounds were as follows:[11][12]

Candidates 1st Round 2nd Round 3rd Round
Candidate Party Votes % % Active ± Votes % % Active ± Votes % % Active
Bob Kiss Progressive 2,585 28.8% 28.8% +396 2,981 33.2% 33.8% +1332 4,313 48.0% 51.5%
Kurt Wright Republican 2,951 32.9% 32.9% +343 3,294 36.7% 37.3% +767 4,061 45.2% 48.5%
Andy Montroll Democrat 2,063 23.0% 23.0% +491 2,554 28.4% 28.9% -2,554 0 0.0%  
Dan Smith Independent 1,306 14.5% 14.5% -1,306 0 0.0%     0 0.0%  
James Simpson Green 35 0.4% 0.4% -35 0 0.0%     0 0.0%  
Write-in   36 0.4% 0.4% -36 0 0.0%     0 0.0%  
EXHAUSTED PILE   4 0.0% 0.0% +147 151 1.7%   +455 606 6.7%  
TOTALS   8980 100.0%   8980 100.0%   8980 100.0%  

Analysis of the 2009 electionEdit

The IRV election is considered a success by IRV advocates such as FairVote, asserting it prevented the election of the first round plurality leader by avoiding the effect of vote-splitting between the other candidates,[13] was easy for voters to understand,[14] avoided the need for traditional runoffs,[14][15] and "contributed to producing a campaign among four serious candidates that was widely praised for its substantive nature".[13]

Advocates of other voting reforms considered the election a failure of IRV because a 54% majority of voters preferred another specific candidate over the IRV winner:[16] The Condorcet "beats-all" winner[17][18][19][20][21] (and likely most-approved/highest-rated candidate) did not win.[22][16] Critics claimed the system is convoluted,[15] did nothing to increase voter turnout,[15] turned voting into a "gambling game" due to non-monotonicity,[17][23][24] and "eliminated the most popular moderate candidate and elected an extremist".[23]

The IRV outcome was a result of vote-splitting: Andy Montroll defeated both Bob Kiss and Kurt Wright in separate pairwise contests, and was eliminated in the second round of IRV due to vote-splitting with both candidates. Kurt Wright acted as a spoiler candidate (a loser whose presence in the race changed who the winner is), splitting the vote against Bob Kiss; Wright received more first-choice votes (including promoted votes to first-choice) than Montroll due to Kiss splitting the vote against Wright.[25]

The election did demonstrate that voters are capable of using ranked-choice ballots, with 99.9% of the ballots filled out correctly,[13] though this includes 16% of voters who bullet-voted for only one candidate.[26]

Pairwise preference combinations:[22][27]

  AM Andy

Montroll (4–0)

4 Wins ↓
  BK Bob

Kiss (3–1)

1 Loss →

↓ 3 Wins

4064 (AM) –

3476 (BK)

  KW Kurt

Wright (2–2)

2 Losses →

2 Wins ↓

4313 (BK) –

4061 (KW)

4597 (AM) –

3664 (KW)

  DS Dan

Smith (1–3)

3 Losses →

1 Win ↓

3971 (KW) –

3793 (DS)

3944 (BK) –

3576 (DS)

4570 (AM) –

2997 (DS)

  JS James

Simpson (0–4)

4 Losses → 5570 (DS) –

721 (JS)

5270 (KW) –

1310 (JS)

5514 (BK) –

844 (JS)

6262 (AM) –

591 (JS)

This leads to an overall preference ranking of:[27]

  1. Montroll – defeats all candidates below, including Kiss (4,064 to 3,476)
  2. Kiss – defeats all candidates below, including Wright (4,313 to 4,061)
  3. Wright – defeats all candidates below, including Smith (3,971 to 3,793)
  4. Smith – defeats Simpson (5,570 to 721) and the write-in candidates

Montroll was therefore preferred over Kiss by 54% of voters, preferred over Wright by 56% of voters, over Smith by 60%, and over Simpson by 91% of voters.[28][4]

Hypothetical results under various voting systemsEdit

The winner under other voting methods can be deduced, assuming the electorate did not employ tactical voting in any case:[16][27][22] In IRV, there is no tactical incentive for a voter withhold or falsify their second choice. For each voting method below that elects Montroll, Kiss supporters can withhold or falsify their second choice to defeat Montroll.

Comparative visualizations of IRV, Condorcet and Borda results.

Effect on IRV in BurlingtonEdit

There was post-election controversy regarding the IRV method, and in 2010 a citizen's initiative resulted in the repeal of IRV in Burlington.[29] The initially "stagnant" repeal campaign drew renewed interest as Kiss became embroiled in a series of controversies.[30] In December 2009, a group called "One Person, One Vote", made up of Republicans and Democrats unhappy with the election outcome,[15] held a press conference to announce that they had collected enough signatures for an initiative to repeal IRV.[31] According to a local columnist, the vote was a referendum on Kiss's mayoralty; Kiss had allegedly become a "lame duck" because of a scandal relating to Burlington Telecom and other local issues.[15] However, in an interview with Vermont Public Radio, Kiss disputed that claim,[32] and those gathering signatures for the repeal stated that it was specifically a rejection of IRV itself.[15]

The IRV repeal initiative in March 2010 won 52% to 48%. It earned a majority of the vote in only two of the city's seven wards, but the vote in those 2009 strongholds for Kurt Wright was lopsided against IRV.[6][7][8] Republican Governor Jim Douglas signed the repeal into law in April 2010, saying "Voting ought to be transparent and easy to understand, and affects the will of the voters in a direct way. I'm glad the city has agreed to a more traditional process."[30]

The repeal reverted the system back to a 40% rule that requires a top-two runoff if no candidate exceeds 40% of the vote. Had the 2009 election occurred under these rules, Kiss and Wright would have advanced to the runoff. If the same voters had participated in the runoff as in the first election and not changed their preferences, Kiss would have won the runoff.[33]

The following decade saw continuing controversy about voting methods in Burlington. In 2011, for example, an initiative effort to increase the winning threshold from the 40% plurality to a 50% majority failed by 58.5% to 41.5%,[34] while in 2019, instant-runoff voting was once again proposed for Burlington by Councilor Jack Hanson but went unapproved by the Charter Change Committee for the March 2020 ballot.[35] One year later, in July 2020, the city council voted 6–5 in support of a measure to reinstate IRV, but that was vetoed by Mayor Miro Weinberger the following month.[36] In a city election, Burlington voters voted in favor by IRV by 64% to 36% (8914 to 4918) on March 2, 2021.[37][38][39][40] The charter change requires approval and enactment by the Vermont legislature, which did not act on it 2021.


  1. ^ a b 4. How did this change to IRV come about? Over 64% of Burlington voters voted in favor of the IRV Charter amendment in March, 2005, and it went into effect on May 12, 2005, when the governor signed the ratification bill, H.505, which had been passed by both the House and Senate.
  2. ^ "Mayor Bob Kiss". City of Burlington. Archived from the original on 2007-11-29. Retrieved 2007-11-16.
  3. ^ "Point/Counterpoint: Terry Bouricius Attempts To Rip Professor Gierzynski A New One Over Instant Runoff Voting Controversy (Now With All New Gierzynski Update!)". Archived from the original on July 26, 2011. Retrieved December 30, 2010.
  4. ^ a b "Burlington Vermont 2009 IRV mayoral election". RangeVoting.org. Retrieved 2016-04-01.
  5. ^ Baruth, Philip (March 12, 2009). "Voting Paradoxes and Perverse Outcomes: Political Scientist Tony Gierzynski Lays Out A Case Against Instant Runoff Voting". Vermont Daily Briefing. Archived from the original on July 26, 2011.
  6. ^ a b "Burlington voters repeal IRV". Wcax.com. March 2, 2010. Archived from the original on 2016-04-09. Retrieved March 28, 2016.
  7. ^ a b "Instant run-off voting experiment ends in Burlington : Rutland Herald Online". Rutlandherald.com. 2010-04-27. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2016-04-01.
  8. ^ a b "Official Results Of 2010 Annual City Election" (PDF). City of Burlington. March 2, 2010.
  9. ^ "Burlington, Vermont, Question 4, Ranked-Choice Voting Amendment (March)". Ballotpedia.org. Retrieved 18 April 2021.
  10. ^ Sneyd, Ross (2006-03-16). "Vt. City Offers Instant Runoff in Race". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2006-03-16. Retrieved 2018-06-03.
  11. ^ "ChoicePlus Pro 2009 Burlington Mayor Round Detail Report". 2011-07-25. Archived from the original on 2011-07-25. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
  12. ^ "ChoicePlus Pro 2009 Burlington Mayor Round 4 Report". March 3, 2009. Archived from the original on 2011-07-25. Retrieved 2011-02-28.
  13. ^ a b c Bouricius, Terry (17 March 2009). "Response to Faulty Analysis of Burlington IRV Election". FairVote.org. Retrieved 1 October 2017. successfully prevented the election of the candidate who would likely have won under plurality rules, but would have lost to either of the other top finishers in a runoff
  14. ^ a b Etnier, Carl (2009-03-06). "Instant runoff was success". Rutland Herald. Retrieved 2018-03-17.
  15. ^ a b c d e f Totten, Shay. "Burlington Residents Seek Repeal of Instant Runoff Voting". Seven Days. Retrieved 2018-03-17. We waited to bring in the signatures because we didn't want this to be about Kurt Wright losing after being ahead, or Andy Montroll who had more first and second place votes and didn't win. We wanted this to be about IRV.
  16. ^ a b c d Gierzynski, Anthony; Hamilton, Wes; Smith, Warren D. (March 2009). "Burlington Vermont 2009 IRV mayoral election". RangeVoting.org. Retrieved 1 October 2017. Montroll was favored over Republican Kurt Wright 56% to 44% ... and over Progressive Bob Kiss 54% to 46% ... In other words, in voting terminology, Montroll was a 'beats-all winner,' also called a 'Condorcet winner' ... However, in the IRV election, Montroll came in third! ... voters preferred Montroll over every other candidate ... Montroll is the most-approved
  17. ^ a b Ornstein, Joseph T.; Norman, Robert Z. (2014-10-01). "Frequency of monotonicity failure under Instant Runoff Voting: estimates based on a spatial model of elections". Public Choice. 161 (1–2): 1–9. doi:10.1007/s11127-013-0118-2. ISSN 0048-5829. Although the Democrat was the Condorcet winner (a majority of voters preferred him in all two way contests), he received the fewest first-place votes and so was eliminated ... 2009 mayoral election in Burlington, VT, which illustrates the key features of an upward monotonicity failure
  18. ^ Donovan, Todd (2017-04-01). Changing How America Votes. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781442276086. it is possible that a candidate who would beat each of the other candidates in a head-to-head contest still loses an election with RCV rules ... this particular unusual result seems to have occurred in a 2009 mayoral election in Burlington, Vermont
  19. ^ Ellenberg, Jordan (2014-05-29). How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking. Penguin. p. 385. ISBN 9780698163843. a majority of voters liked the centrist candidate Montroll better than Kiss, and a majority of voters liked Montroll better than Wright ... yet Montroll was tossed in the first round.
  20. ^ Stensholt, Eivind (2015-10-07). "What Happened in Burlington?". NHH Dept. Of Business and Management Science. Discussion Paper No. 2015/26. doi:10.2139/ssrn.2670462. hdl:11250/2356264. SSRN 2670462. K was elected even though M was a clear Condorcet winner and W was a clear Plurality winner.
  21. ^ Lewyn, Michael (2012). "Two Cheers for Instant Runoff Voting". Phoenix L. Rev. 6: 117. SSRN 2276015. election where Democratic candidate for mayor was Condorcet winner but finished third behind Republican and 'Progressive'
  22. ^ a b c d Olson, Brian (2009). "2009 Burlington Mayor IRV Failure". bolson.org. Retrieved 1 October 2017. This is an IRV failure. The IRV result is clearly not what people actually wanted. More people liked Montroll over Kiss than the other way around, but IRV elected the loser.
  23. ^ a b Dopp, Kathy (June 10, 2009). "IRV much worse than old runoffs". The Aspen Times. Retrieved 2018-03-17.
  24. ^ Felsenthal, Dan S.; Tideman, Nicolaus (2014). "Interacting double monotonicity failure with direction of impact under five voting methods". Mathematical Social Sciences. 67: 57–66. doi:10.1016/j.mathsocsci.2013.08.001. ISSN 0165-4896. A display of non-monotonicity under the Alternative Vote method was reported recently, for the March 2009 mayoral election in Burlington, Vermont.
  25. ^ Laatu, Juho; Smith, Warren D. (March 2009). "THE RANK-ORDER VOTES IN THE 2009 BURLINGTON MAYORAL ELECTION".
  26. ^ "Voter Paradox in the 2009 Burlington IRV Mayoral Race" (PDF). Figure: Percent of voters who made a 1st choice, 2nd choice, etc., 2006 and 2009 Burlington mayoral election. 2 choices = 83.5%
  27. ^ a b c "2009 Burlington, Vermont Mayoral Election". Electowiki. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
  28. ^ "IRV and Core Support". The Center for Election Science. Retrieved 2019-12-04.
  29. ^ Gierzynski, Tony (March 12, 2009). "Voting Paradoxes and Perverse Outcomes: Political Scientist Tony Gierzynski Lays Out A Case Against Instant Runoff Voting". Vermont Daily Briefing. Archived from the original on 2015-10-19. Retrieved 2017-09-27.
  30. ^ a b "IRV Repeal Signed into Law". Seven Days. April 26, 2010.
  31. ^ "One Person, One Vote Press Conference". CCTV Center for Media and Democracy. 2009-12-29. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
  32. ^ "Bob Kiss on IRV, Burlington Telecom and the Moran Plant – VPR Archive". vprarchive.vpr.net. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
  33. ^ "City of Burlington, Vermont | Instant Runoff Voting". 2011-09-28. Archived from the original on 2011-09-28. Retrieved 2018-04-08. – FAQ 5. for IRV: Under the old [pre-IRV] system a candidate could be elected with just over 40% of the vote, meaning a candidate could win even though seen as the last choice of nearly 60% of the voters.
  34. ^ "Annual City Election results" (PDF). City of Burlington. March 1, 2011.
  35. ^ "Ranked-Choice Voting Proposal Advances in Burlington". Seven Days. Retrieved 2019-12-04.
  36. ^ "Push for ranked-choice voting dies in Vermont's biggest city". The Fulcrum. 2020-08-10. Retrieved 2020-09-22.
  37. ^ Swann, Sara. "Ranked-choice voting poised to return to Vermont's largest city". The Fulcrum. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  38. ^ Huntley, Katharine. "Voters approve all Burlington ballot issues". WCAX3. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  39. ^ "Burlington, Vermont, Question 4, Ranked-Choice Voting Amendment (March 2021)". Ballotpedia. Retrieved 24 July 2021.
  40. ^ Huntley, Katharine. "Voters approve all Burlington ballot issues". WCAX3. Retrieved 2 May 2021.

External linksEdit