Zoe Berg, Senior Photographer

Yale students have joined forces with local organizations to push for ranked-choice voting in federal, state and local elections — an initiative that is gaining ground as the state government considers new legislation.

Under a proposed state assembly bill filed by freshman Rep. Keith Denning of district 42, Connecticut voters would be able to rank multiple candidates, either from different or the same parties, by preference during elections. In the event that no candidate receives a majority of the votes, second-choice votes from supporters of the third-placing candidate would be redistributed to the remaining candidates until one candidate wins a majority. 

“I think that there are a considerable number of people in Connecticut who support other parties, or other factions within a party, and just don’t have a chance to express that,” said Michael Garman ’25, chair of student group Elm City RCV and a former staff photographer for the News. “If you look at the cities that have adopted it, whose diversity of identities and ideas is much closer to the general population, it also boosts turnout — especially among younger people, which is a major problem here in New Haven.”

Elm City RCV spent much of the fall semester spreading information about ranked-choice voting on campus, attempting to drum up support for the proposed electoral system throughout the New Haven community. They collected hundreds of signatures from students stating their support for the policy and indicating interest in joining advocacy efforts.

According to reporting by the New Haven Register, the city had 39.7 percent voter turnout in the 2022 midterm elections, lower than the state average of 58.43 percent. National turnout level was higher than that of New Haven but lower than that of Connecticut, coming in at 46.9 percent.

The current “first past the post” system — in which voters select one candidate, who then wins if they receive the most votes regardless of whether a majority is reached — has long served as the city’s election system. 

Proponents of ranked-choice voting say the system will improve voter turnout and promote fairness for voters and candidates across ideologies, allowing those dissatisfied with mainline party candidates the option to elect third-party candidates and those outside of the party’s mainstream. Opponents say the system may disregard the party preferences of a majority of voters, often pointing to Alaska, where Democratic U.S. House Rep. Mary Peltola recently won elections against two Republican candidates who split sixty percent of first-rank votes. 

Although the two states with ranked-choice voting systems, Alaska and Maine, have experienced opposition movements to the policy, Garman said there is little organized opposition to the issue in Connecticut at the present. Both Governor Ned Lamont and his 2022 Republican opponent, Bob Stefanowski, expressed support for bringing ranked-choice voting to the state.

Lamont, who began serving his second term this month, has confirmed that adopting ranked-choice is a priority this legislative season. He encouraged exploring the option during his Jan. 4 inauguration address, stating that it could “take the sting out of politics and bring some of the decency back to public service.” 

The governor’s election commission will now decide whether the proposed bill goes to a state assembly vote next month. Holden Culotta, an organizer for Connecticut Voters First and the Connecticut Forward Party, said the organization plans to engage voters, begin letter-writing and visit the state capitol in the near future.

“It seems like there’s this really fantastic momentum, you know, in the next month or two, and I think there’s a good chance that this bill passes,” Culotta said. “There’s a good amount of support in the commission. We’re working on organizing a Legislative Day at the Capitol in February or March for a bunch of students and ranked-choice voting advocates to come.”

Organizers look forward to partnering with local advocacy groups to push state lawmakers toward voting in favor of a ranked-choice voting system. Currently, Elm City RCV is affiliated with Culotta’s Connecticut Voters First and the national organization Rank the Vote. Brook Smith ’25, vice chair of Elm City RCV, said that meeting with local groups has been key to understanding New Haven’s political needs.

“Meeting with New Haven community members has opened my mind to the value of ranked-choice voting on the community level, because our local elections are the types of elections that more commonly will have lots of different candidates and lots of different parties,” Smith added. “I think legislative advocacy is something that we can do all on our own, but I think our broader mission is to work within the city and within the state to connect with the community.”

Implementing ranked-choice voting for local elections may prove more challenging than throughout the state, where a simple assembly vote is required for approval. New Haven’s city charter, which is updated every 10 years, declares that all elected officials must be elected by a plurality vote. According to Garman, the next update to the charter is scheduled in a few months — “before there’s enough time to build enough support” to make the policy change plausible. 

In order to implement ranked-choice voting through other avenues, activists must gather enough signatures to warrant a specialist charter revision process, which would then have to be approved by the charter commission and Board of Alders before being ratified by voters.

In a statement to the News, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker shared his support for adopting ranked-choice voting in city elections, stating that he would personally vote for the policy change if approved by the charter revision commission and alders. 

“In a multi-candidate election, ranked choice voting helps incentivize voter participation, provides voters with more choice and opportunity to make their voices heard, and ensures that the candidate who is ultimately elected has earned the support of a broad majority of voters,” Elicker wrote. “It’s been successful in other cities and states, and I think could work well in New Haven and Connecticut as well.”

Elm City RCV has worked to garner support from city officials in their advocacy, most recently meeting with Ward 1 Alder Eli Sabin ’22. According to Garman, although many local officials have voiced support for adopting a ranked-choice system, ruling party officials in several other states remain wary of losing their seats due to the policy, as candidates without a plurality may win via second-choice votes.  

All 30 of New Haven’s alders are Democrats, and the city has exclusively elected Democratic mayors since 1954. 

“The first time it goes against the majority party in the state, there’s gonna be some backlash,” Garman said. “That’s the price you pay for implementing a more democratic system, because occasionally it works against your interests.” 

According to NBC News, lawmakers in 14 states have proposed ranked-choice voting systems for this legislative season. 

 

MEGAN VAZ
Megan Vaz covers Yale-New Haven relations and Local 33. Originally from South Florida, she is a sophomore in Pierson College majoring in history.