2009 Burlington mayoral election

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2009 Burlington mayoral election

← 2006 March 3, 2009 2012 →
Turnout8,374 votes (Final Round)
Nominee Bob Kiss Kurt Wright
Party Progressive Republican
First round 2,585
Final round 4,313

Nominee Andy Montroll Dan Smith
Party Democratic Independent
First round 2,063
Final round eliminated eliminated

Kiss:      30–40%      40–50%      50–60%      60–70%      70–80%
Wright:      50–60%      60–70%
Montroll:      30–40%      40–50%

Mayor before election

Bob Kiss

Elected Mayor

Bob Kiss

The 2009 Burlington mayoral election was held in March 2009 for the city of Burlington, Vermont. This was the second mayoral election since the city's 2005 change to instant-runoff voting (IRV), after the 2006 mayoral election.[1] In the 2009 election, incumbent Burlington mayor (Bob Kiss) won reelection as a member of the Vermont Progressive Party,[2] defeating Kurt Wright in the final round with 48% of the vote (51.5% excluding exhausted ballots).

The election created a controversy as a result of several election pathologies, after Kiss was declared winner as a result of 750 votes cast against his candidacy (ranking him last), over the objections of the 54% of Burlington voters who had preferred Andy Montroll.[3]

Unlike the city's first IRV election three years prior, however, Kiss was neither the plurality winner (Republican Kurt Wright) nor the majority vote winner (Democrat Andy Montroll).[4][5] This led to a controversy about the use of IRV in mayoral elections,[3] culminating in a successful 2010 citizen's initiative repealing IRV's use by a vote of 52% to 48%.[6][7][8]


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 used only in a few local elections in the United States.[9] The 2006 Burlington mayoral election was decided by two rounds of IRV tallying, selecting candidate Bob Kiss of the Vermont Progressive Party (VPP). In the election, Kiss prevailed over Democrat Hinda Miller and Republican Kevin Curley. With his election Kiss became the second member of the VPP to be elected to the office after Peter Clavelle.


  • Bob Kiss (P), incumbent mayor (elected in 2006) seeking second term
  • Kurt Wright (R), then-current City Councilor and State Representative
  • Andy Montroll (D), then current member of the Burlington City Council
  • Dan Smith (I), lawyer
  • James Simpson (G), owner of human-powered transportation services company in Burlington[citation needed]


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 48.0% in the final round (51.5% excluding exhausted ballots), 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:[10][11]

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% ☒N Eliminated
Dan Smith Independent 1,306 14.5% 14.5% ☒N Eliminated
James Simpson Green 35 0.4% 0.4% ☒N Eliminated
Write-in   40 0.4% 0.4% ☒N Eliminated
Exhausted   0 0.0% 0.0% +147 151 1.7%   +455 606 6.7%  
Total   8980 100.0%   8980 100.0%   8980 100.0%  


FairVote touted the 2009 election as one of its major success stories, with IRV helping the city avoid the cost of a traditional runoff (which would not have affected the results). They also argued IRV prevented a spoiler effect that would have occurred under plurality.[12] Later analyses showed the race was still spoiled, however, with Wright acting as a spoiler pulling moderate votes from Montroll, who otherwise would have been able to defeat Kiss in a one-on-one race.[13][14]

FairVote also claimed the election as a success story because 99.9% of voters were able to fill out at least one preference on their ranked-choice ballot.[12] Other election observers questioned this interpretation, after analyses showed 16% of voters cast plurality-style ballots for only one candidate[15] and 7% of ballots did not rank either of the candidates in the last round, leaving them unrepresented.[13][15]

Some mathematicians and voting theorists criticized the election results as revealing several pathologies associated with instant-runoff voting, noting that Kiss was elected as a result of 750 votes cast against him (ranking Kiss in last place).[16][17]

Several electoral reform advocates branded the election a failure after Kiss was elected, despite 54% of voters voting for Montroll over Kiss,[18][19] violating the principle of majority rule.[14][20][21]

Tournament matrix[edit]

The results of every possible one-on-one election can be completed as follows:

Andy Montroll (D) 6262 (Montroll) –

591 (Simpson)

4570 (Montroll) –

2997 (Smith)

4597 (Montroll) –

3664 (Wright)

4064 (Montroll) –

3476 (Kiss)

4/4 Wins
Bob Kiss (P) 5514 (Kiss) –

844 (Simpson)

3944 (Kiss) –

3576 (Smith)

4313 (Kiss) –

4061 (Wright)

3/4 Wins
Kurt Wright (R) 5270 (Wright) –

1310 (Simpson)

3971 (Wright) –

3793 (Smith)

2/4 Wins
Dan Smith (I) 5570 (Smith) –

721 (Simpson)

1/4 Wins
James Simpson (G) 0/4 Wins

This leads to an overall preference ranking of:

  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.[5][22]

Hypothetical results under various voting systems[edit]

Because all ballots were fully released, it is possible to reconstruct the winners under other voting methods. While Wright would have won under plurality, Kiss won under IRV, and would have won under a two-round vote or a traditional nonpartisan blanket primary.

Montroll, being the Condorcet winner, would have won if the ballots were counted using ranked pairs (or any other Condorcet method).[23] Analyses suggested Montroll also would have won under most rated voting methods, including score voting, approval voting, majority judgment, or STAR voting.[citation needed]

Effect on IRV in Burlington[edit]

There was post-election controversy regarding the IRV method, and in 2010 a citizen's initiative resulted in the repeal of IRV in Burlington.[24] The initially "stagnant" repeal campaign drew renewed interest as Kiss became embroiled in a series of controversies.[25] In December 2009, a group called "One Person, One Vote", made up of Republicans and Democrats unhappy with the election outcome, held a press conference to announce that they had collected enough signatures for an initiative to repeal IRV.[26][27] 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.[26] However, in an interview with Vermont Public Radio, Kiss disputed that claim,[28] and those gathering signatures for the repeal stated that it was specifically a rejection of IRV itself.[26]

Locals argued the system was convoluted,[26] turned the 2009 election into a "gambling game" by disqualifying Montroll for having won too many votes,[17][29] and "eliminated the most popular moderate candidate and elected an extremist".[29]

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."[25]

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.[30]

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%,[31] 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.[32]

One year later, in July 2020, the city council voted 6–5 in support of a measure to reinstate IRV, but it was vetoed by Mayor Miro Weinberger the following month.[33] The council then amended the measure to apply only to the council itself, which the Mayor accepted, and on March 2, 2021, Burlington voters voted in favor of IRV for its city council by 64% to 36% (8914 to 4918).[34][35][36] The charter change required approval by the Vermont legislature, which enacted it in May of 2022, and which the governor allowed to become law without his signature.[37] The council in September 2022, the voters in March 2023, and the legislature in May 2023 approved the expansion of use of IRV for mayor, school commissioners, and ward election officers, with first use in March 2024.[38][39][40]

See also[edit]


  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 November 29, 2007. Retrieved November 16, 2007.
  3. ^ a b 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.
  4. ^ "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.
  5. ^ a b Stensholt, Eivind (2015). "What Happened in Burlington?". SSRN Electronic Journal. Elsevier BV: 10–12. doi:10.2139/ssrn.2670462. hdl:11250/2356264. ISSN 1556-5068.
  6. ^ a b "Burlington voters repeal IRV". Wcax.com. March 2, 2010. Archived from the original on April 9, 2016. Retrieved March 28, 2016.
  7. ^ a b "Instant run-off voting experiment ends in Burlington : Rutland Herald Online". Rutlandherald.com. April 27, 2010. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  8. ^ a b "Official Results Of 2010 Annual City Election" (PDF). City of Burlington. March 2, 2010.
  9. ^ Sneyd, Ross (March 16, 2006). "Vt. City Offers Instant Runoff in Race". The Guardian. Archived from the original on March 16, 2006. Retrieved June 3, 2018.
  10. ^ "ChoicePlus Pro 2009 Burlington Mayor Round Detail Report". July 25, 2011. Archived from the original on July 25, 2011. Retrieved January 3, 2018.
  11. ^ "ChoicePlus Pro 2009 Burlington Mayor Round 4 Report". March 3, 2009. Archived from the original on July 25, 2011. Retrieved February 28, 2011.
  12. ^ a b Bouricius, Terry (March 17, 2009). "Response to Faulty Analysis of Burlington IRV Election". FairVote.org. Retrieved October 1, 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
  13. ^ a b Laatu, Juho; Smith, Warren D. (March 2009). "THE RANK-ORDER VOTES IN THE 2009 BURLINGTON MAYORAL ELECTION".
  14. ^ a b 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'
  15. ^ a b "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%
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ a b Ornstein, Joseph T.; Norman, Robert Z. (October 1, 2014). "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. S2CID 30833409. 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. ^ Gierzynski, Anthony; Hamilton, Wes; Smith, Warren D. (March 2009). "Burlington Vermont 2009 IRV mayoral election". RangeVoting.org. Retrieved October 1, 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
  19. ^ Bristow-Johnson, Robert (2023). "The failure of Instant Runoff to accomplish the purpose for which it was adopted: a case study from Burlington Vermont". Constitutional Political Economy. doi:10.1007/s10602-023-09393-1.
  20. ^ Ellenberg, Jordan (May 29, 2014). 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.
  21. ^ Stensholt, Eivind (October 7, 2015). "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.
  22. ^ "IRV and Core Support". The Center for Election Science. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  23. ^ Graham-Squire, Adam T.; McCune, David (June 12, 2023). "An Examination of Ranked-Choice Voting in the United States, 2004–2022". Representation: 1–19. arXiv:2301.12075. doi:10.1080/00344893.2023.2221689.
  24. ^ 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 October 19, 2015. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
  25. ^ a b "IRV Repeal Signed into Law". Seven Days. April 26, 2010.
  26. ^ a b c d Totten, Shay. "Burlington Residents Seek Repeal of Instant Runoff Voting". Seven Days. Retrieved March 17, 2018. 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.
  27. ^ "One Person, One Vote Press Conference". CCTV Center for Media and Democracy. December 29, 2009. Retrieved April 10, 2018.
  28. ^ "Bob Kiss on IRV, Burlington Telecom and the Moran Plant – VPR Archive". vprarchive.vpr.net. Retrieved April 10, 2018.
  29. ^ a b Dopp, Kathy (June 10, 2009). "IRV much worse than old runoffs". The Aspen Times. Retrieved March 17, 2018.
  30. ^ "City of Burlington, Vermont | Instant Runoff Voting". September 28, 2011. Archived from the original on September 28, 2011. Retrieved April 8, 2018. – 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.
  31. ^ "Annual City Election results" (PDF). City of Burlington. March 1, 2011.
  32. ^ "Ranked-Choice Voting Proposal Advances in Burlington". Seven Days. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  33. ^ "Push for ranked-choice voting dies in Vermont's biggest city". The Fulcrum. August 10, 2020. Retrieved September 22, 2020.
  34. ^ Swann, Sara. "Ranked-choice voting poised to return to Vermont's largest city". The Fulcrum. Retrieved May 2, 2021.
  35. ^ Huntley, Katharine. "Voters approve all Burlington ballot issues". WCAX3. Retrieved May 2, 2021.
  36. ^ "Burlington, Vermont, Question 4, Ranked-Choice Voting Amendment (March 2021)". Ballotpedia. Retrieved July 24, 2021.
  37. ^ Ruehsen, Ella (May 20, 2022). "Scott paves way for ranked choice voting in Burlington council elections". VTDigger. Retrieved March 16, 2024.
  38. ^ Skillman, Kori (September 13, 2022). "Burlington considers extending ranked choice voting to mayoral elections". VTDigger. Retrieved March 16, 2024.
  39. ^ "Burlington, Vermont, Question 6, Ranked-Choice Voting for Mayor, School Commissioner, and Ward Election Officer Amendment (March 2023)". Ballotpedia. Ballotpedia. Retrieved March 16, 2024.
  40. ^ Crowley, Patrick (May 10, 2023). "Senate advances Burlington's election-related charter changes". VTDigger. Retrieved March 16, 2024.

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