Our nation’s electoral systems desperately need attention, something which became even more evident when a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Partisans disagree about what needs reforming and why. No single measure by itself will put us back on track.
However, the time has come in Connecticut to consider a simple, feasible and nonpartisan reform that has been gaining momentum across the country: Ranked Choice Voting. We are accustomed to elections in which a voter marks a ballot for one candidate only, and where the candidate with the most votes wins. Unfortunately, in crowded primaries, and general elections with more than two candidates, this method of “plurality voting” often produces “winners” who fail to represent the preferences of a majority of voters.
Arguably, Connecticut Republicans lost the 2018 gubernatorial election because they nominated a candidate, Bob Stefanowksi, who was opposed by twice as many Republican primary voters as those who supported him. Stefanowksi won the primary with just 29 percent of the vote. Winners without majority support have prevailed in Democratic primaries and general elections as well.
How does Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) work to address these challenges? Rather than being forced to mark a ballot for only one candidate, voters may exercise an option to rank their second and third choice preferences, and so on for as many candidates as the option extends. If a candidate wins a majority of first choice votes, the candidate wins just as they do in a typical plurality election. However, if no candidate wins a majority, there is an “instant runoff.” The candidate with the least votes is eliminated and that candidate’s voters are redistributed to those voters’ next choice. This process continues until one candidate reaches a 50 percent majority.
Ranked Choice Voting assures that a true voter consensus emerges in every election. Voters can support their favorite candidates without worrying that they are “throwing their vote away” when they cast a ballot for a candidate with little chance of winning (and risk their least favorite candidate being elected). Candidates are not discouraged from running for fear of being ostracized as a spoiler. RCV curbs negative campaigning as candidates realize they should appeal to a wider range of voters for whom they might become a second or third choice.
There is widespread public support for RCV in CT. Dozens of citizens submitted testimony at public hearings in 2019 and 2020; virtually everyone in support of the bills. The Secretary of the State and the League of Women Voters of Connecticut both endorsed studying Ranked Choice Voting.
An Act Establishing a Task Force to Study Ranked-Choice Voting for state and federal elections in Connecticut, HB-5884, was submitted by 10 members of the CT General Assembly and has been co-sponsored by another 23 legislators. HB-5884 merely establishes a task force to assess the implications of moving to RCV elections. A study bill, HB-5820, passed the House in 2019 with a comfortable margin; the floor debate took less than 20 minutes. The Office of Fiscal Analysis reported that HB-5820 would have no fiscal impact. The study bill was raised again last year, but put on hold due to the pandemic. Passing an RCV “study bill” in 2021 should not be a heavy lift.
Ballot resolutions to amend the state constitution to allow early voting and no-excuse absentee voting are getting considerable attention in the legislature, and so they should—Connecticut is one of only seven states that allows neither. But to strengthen our democracy we need to do more than make it easier to vote; we need to ensure that winning candidates better reflect the will of the majority. That’s what Ranked Choice Voting offers. It’s a simple change to the way we vote with a huge payoff: it makes our democracy more representative.