Connecticut not likely to embrace ranked choice voting anytime soon

By Hud­son Kam­phausen | UConn Jour­nal­ism
Nov. 5, 2022 

Pro­po­nents say it encour­ages more civ­il cam­paigns and oppo­nents con­tend it’s too com­pli­cat­ed — but regard­less of indi­vid­ual opin­ions about ranked choice vot­ing, one advo­cate for the sys­tem says it’s not like­ly to hap­pen in Con­necti­cut any time soon. 

State Rep. Josh Elliott, a Demo­c­rat who rep­re­sents Ham­den and is a pro­po­nent of ranked choice vot­ing, said he thinks the state is five to 10 years away from pos­si­bly imple­ment­ing the sys­tem that allows vot­ers to rank their choic­es among can­di­dates instead of cast­ing a bal­lot for only one person. 

There is just a lack of aware­ness,” Elliott said about ranked choice vot­ing. “The rift is con­stant­ly explain­ing what it is and why it works.” 

This is despite the Griebel-Frank Par­ty for CT, which advo­cates a change to ranked-choice vot­ing, endors­ing the guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­da­cy of Demo­c­rat Ned Lam­ont. Lam­ont recent­ly pledged sup­port for ranked choice voting. 

Elliott said he thinks Lam­ont has not advo­cat­ed enough for ranked choice vot­ing, and fur­ther, that Lam­ont won’t push hard enough for new leg­is­la­tion con­nect­ed to the vot­ing system. 

Ranked choice vot­ing is cur­rent­ly used in sev­er­al states in dif­fer­ent ways. Maine and Alas­ka use it in con­gres­sion­al and pres­i­den­tial elec­tions and pri­maries, while numer­ous oth­er states use it in a more lim­it­ed fash­ion or only at the munic­i­pal level. 

Con­necti­cut cur­rent­ly uses a sys­tem of plu­ral­i­ty in its elec­tions — which means a can­di­date needs only to gain the most votes, not a major­i­ty of the votes cast. Ranked choice, depend­ing on how it is insti­tut­ed in a par­tic­u­lar juris­dic­tion, requires a can­di­date to earn at least 50% of all votes cast or to receive the most ranked votes in a sec­ond round of vote counts. 

Matthew M. Singer, a polit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Con­necti­cut, said he is unsure if the sys­tem will take hold in Connecticut. 

Politi­cians are hes­i­tant to alter the rules of elec­tions, because they were elect­ed under the old ones,” Singer said. 

The lead­ers of the state’s two major par­ties expressed dif­fer­ing opin­ions about ranked choice vot­ing. Ben Pro­to, chair­man of the Con­necti­cut Repub­li­cans, said he thinks a ranked choice sys­tem could be “more eas­i­ly manipulated.” 

It’s not about the Repub­li­can Par­ty or the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty – it’s about the sys­tem,” Pro­to said. “At the end of the day, if you’re a Repub­li­can, be a Repub­li­can. If you’re a Demo­c­rat, be a Democrat.” 

Nan­cy DiNar­do, chair­woman of the state Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, said she would be curi­ous to see if the sys­tem could first be effec­tive­ly imple­ment­ed at the town lev­el, before being insti­tut­ed by the state. 

While he is an advo­cate for the sys­tem, Elliott said some dra­mat­ic changes would need to occur for it to be insti­tut­ed in Con­necti­cut. For exam­ple, changes would need to be made in vot­ing tech­nol­o­gy, and a cen­tral­ized sys­tem for count­ing votes would need to be insti­tut­ed, he said. 

Stephanie Thomas, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date for Sec­re­tary of the State, said in a state­ment that ranked choice vot­ing is not a top pri­or­i­ty for her. She cit­ed some of the issues ref­er­enced by Elliott – lack­ing infra­struc­ture, tech­no­log­i­cal bar­ri­ers, and a less cen­tral­ized vote count­ing sys­tem – as rea­sons why. 

Jonathan Per­loe, co-founder of Vot­er Choice CT, said the recent con­gres­sion­al win for Demo­c­rat Mary Pel­to­la in Alas­ka over for­mer gov­er­nor Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III is an exam­ple of the pos­i­tive effects of ranked choice voting. 

That’s what ranked-choice vot­ing achieves,” Per­loe said in an email. “By ensur­ing the win­ner has the major­i­ty of votes.” 

Elliott and Singer agreed that in Alas­ka, the sys­tem worked as intend­ed – requir­ing a can­di­date to win a major­i­ty of the votes to take office. 

The nature of the sys­tem is that, in most cas­es, the most pop­u­lar can­di­date should win,” Elliott said. 

The impor­tant piece, Elliott said, is remov­ing par­ti­san­ship and bit­ter rhetoric from elec­tions as much as pos­si­ble and allow­ing the pub­lic to select the can­di­date that best rep­re­sents their interests. 

There is an advan­tage to being a mod­er­ate, Elliott said, and par­ties should have to nom­i­nate some­one that reach­es out to both sides. This, he said, is how the sys­tem pre­vents polar­iza­tion or toxicity. 

While this could take longer than pro­po­nents of the sys­tem would want, Per­loe said change is pos­si­ble when cit­i­zens get involved. 

Change takes time, but when it’s some­thing as impor­tant as strength­en­ing our democ­ra­cy, the effort is worth it,” Per­loe said. 

Hud­son Kam­phausen is a senior at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Con­necti­cut major­ing in Jour­nal­ism. He report­ed this sto­ry for Fall 2022 course: Pub­lic Affairs Reporting.

TOP IMAGE: An elec­tion work­er sorts a stack of bal­lots dur­ing a ranked choice vot­ing tab­u­la­tion in Augus­ta, Maine in 2018. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)