On Tuesday night, members of the state’s newest electoral reform movement — Voter Choice CT — met in the New Haven Free Public Library to strategize on how to implement ranked choice voting in the state.
According to organizer Jeff Hart, the founding members of Voter Choice CT were all members of the same Facebook group that supports ranked choice voting. Hart said that the organizers attracted the attention of Adam Friedman at Voter Choice Massachusetts, who suggested that the organization set up meetings to start the movement to bring ranked choice voting to Connecticut.
“We don’t want this to go for 20 years,” Voter Choice CT chair Alex Tiktinsky said. “We want to get clear consensus on what this should look like in Connecticut, and then we want to work as quickly as we can through legislative sessions to get this passed.”
Across the United States, nearly all elections use first-past-the-post voting, in which voters each select one candidate, and the candidate with the greatest number of votes wins, even if they do not have a majority. With instant runoff voting — a type of ranked choice voting — citizens would instead cast a ballot with their top three candidates marked in order.
If no candidate gets over 50 percent of the vote, the contender with the least number of votes is eliminated and their votes redistributed to the next highest ranked choice. The first candidate to obtain a majority after successive elimination rounds wins the election in this method.
Among other benefits, ranked choice voting could improve competition and fairness in elections, Tiktinsky said. For example, Democrat Ned Lamont SOM ’80, Republican Bob Stefanowski and independent Oz Griebel faced off in last November’s gubernatorial election. Though people might be hesitant to vote for small-name candidates like Griebel and “waste” their vote, a ranked choice voting system would mean that their second-best choices would still be considered in the final result.
“In a place where there is single-party dominance [like] New Haven, where the Democratic Party reigns supreme, [ranked choice voting] lets there be more ideological competition within that party,” Tiktinsky said.
Organizers emphasized that the movement to reform voting is gaining momentum. In 2016, Maine voters approved a referendum to use ranked choice voting in state elections, which went into effect last November. Though he has watched small victories for instant runoff voting since he first heard of the system in college, Hart said the method gained national attention after Mainers threw its support behind the policy change.
Ranked choice voting even has caught the support of state representative Josh Elliott, D-Hamden. He introduced a bill to the state assembly Tuesday proposing a task force to study how the system might be implemented. Current Secretary of State Denise Merrill has also included ranked choice voting in a package of potential electoral reforms, according to Tiktinsky.
“Other parties that are underdogs never seem to get the representation that they might because the people that vote for them think only a Democrat or Republican can win,” Ward 25 Democratic Party co-chair Janis Underwood said. “It would force the dominant parties now to have better candidates.”
Winter, the alder for Ward 21, has acted as one of Voter Choice CT’s main organizers. He said his primary concern was the “health of our democracy and the tone of civil debate.” Winter added that since ranked choice voting should elect candidates supported by most of the population, it should build consensus and promote greater diversity of voices.
Patricia Kane, another New Haven resident, said that one of the most attractive aspects of ranked choice voting is early research suggesting it increases “civility” in public debate by encouraging candidates to appeal to as many people as possible.
“It’s not a difficult concept: you rank them one, two, three and votes are transferred,” Kane said. “It’s a very simple pledge. But it empowers the voter — it gives them literally more choice.”
U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, is the first representative to be elected via ranked choice voting to the nation’s congress.
Will Wang | firstname.lastname@example.org