Why Ranked Choice Voting should be an option in Connecticut municipal elections
In some of the fast-approaching November municipal elections, Connecticut voters will once again confront races where there is a real possibility that the “winner” could be a candidate supported only by a minority of voters. In each of these races, moreover, some number of voters will feel unable to vote for the candidate they most prefer because of fear their vote will be “wasted” or, worse, concern that their preferred candidate will be a “spoiler” and that a vote for that preferred candidate will help elect the candidate they dislike the most.
This scenario is the direct result of our current single choice or “first past the post” system of voting; it exists in every primary and general election contest where there are more than two candidates. In our current system, there is no run-off process if no candidate wins by a majority.
The race for First Selectman in Stonington is precisely such an election. There are four candidates — the two-term, unaffiliated incumbent; a Democratic challenger; a Republican challenger; and a petitioning independent challenger. Under the current single choice/no run-off voting system, one of these four candidates could “win” with as little as 25 percent of the vote plus one and could end up serving as the “elected” First Selectman even though 74-plus percent of the voters would have agreed on another candidate.
The majority would rule and neither the “spoiler” claim nor the “wasted vote” dilemma would be possible if voters in municipal elections in Connecticut were allowed the option of joining the ranks of the 14 million voters in 29 red and blue states that use Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) in one or more elections. RCV is a powerful electoral reform that eliminates the “spoiler” and “wasted vote” problems, assures that the “winner” is able to govern with the legitimacy of majority support and gives voters greater confidence that their vote matters.
RCV allows voters to rank more than one candidate on the ballot in order of preference (first choice, second choice, third choice) and eliminates the need to conduct separate run-off elections to produce a majority winner. If a candidate receives more than half of the first choices, that candidate wins just like in any other election.
If there is no majority winner after counting first choices, the race is decided by “instant run-off.” The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and voters who picked that losing candidate have their votes counted for what was their next choice in the runoff. The process of eliminating losing candidates continues until two candidates remain, and the majority candidate wins.
RCV increases competition and voter choice, empowers voters, encourages greater civic engagement and spurs increased turnout. With RCV, no vote is ever “wasted,” and no candidate is ever a “spoiler.” In addition, where our current single choice system of voting rewards the politics of polarization, RCV reduces negative campaigning because RCV candidates need to appeal broadly to a majority of voters to win and need to seek the second and third choice rankings of voters who might initially prefer a rival.
Under current law, voters in municipalities like Stonington are prohibited from deciding whether they want to experiment with RCV in their municipal elections. During the last session of the Connecticut General Assembly, Governor Lamont supported a bipartisan bill that would have given municipalities the option to use RCV in first selectman and mayoral races as well as giving Connecticut’s political parties the ability to use RCV in their presidential preference primaries. Voters and policy makers should demand that this common sense, non-partisan proposal with bipartisan support be reintroduced and adopted in the next legislative session.
The real question to ask about RCV is what kind of democracy we want to leave to the next generation of voters. RCV can help restore voter faith in our democracy and the functioning of our democracy itself — by assuring majority rule, empowering voters and incentivizing more positive campaigning and more cooperative governing. As Governor Lamont put it when he endorsed the bi-partisan measure in March, “the time is now to begin work on this important reform.”
Rep. Aundre Bumgardner represents the 41st House District, covering parts of Stonington and Groton in the Connecticut House of Representatives.
Scott Muller is a Stonington resident and is the Founder and Chairman of CTVotersFirst.org.
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