Ranked-choice voting received a half-hour debate in Connecticut’s House of Representatives Wednesday night thanks to a doomed amendment from Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, who unsuccessfully sought to implement the system in presidential primaries.
Lawmakers weighed several bills this year to implement the instant-runoff electoral system. None of those proposals made it out of a legislative committee on election policy. However, as the House was wrapping up its business Wednesday, Elliott, a ranked choice proponent, raised an amendment to institute the system when Connecticut’s voting infrastructure could support it.
“[Ranked choice voting is] continuing to gain popularity because people want to, not only vote their conscience, but they want to vote strategically as well and very often you have to choose between one or the other,” he said.
He made a five-minute pitch for the electoral system, which asks voters to rank candidates for office rather than choosing just one.
If no candidate captures at least 50% of the vote in a ranked election, the lowest-performing candidate is eliminated. When a voter’s top-ranked choice is removed from the running, their vote goes instead to their second pick. The runoff process continues until someone receives a majority of the votes.
“What that means is our elections end up becoming significantly less vitriolic,” he said. “If I’m in a race with multiple people, I’m not simply going to go out there and slam my competition because if there’s a chance that I could be your second favorite, I’m going to try to get your vote.”
Elliott’s amendment, which was ultimately tabled without a vote, would have tasked the Secretary of the State’s Office with implementing the system for the coming presidential primary – a virtual impossibility given a number of factors including Connecticut’s outmoded tabulators. The proposal included a provision to delay implementation until 2028.
The amendment was not well-received. Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott, asked Elliott to explain the system multiple times.
“I don’t know where to begin with this bill,” she said. “I’ve sat on the [Government Administrations and Elections Committee] for quite a few years now, for the last four years, and I still am confused so I can imagine the people in this room trying to figure out really what ranked-choice voting is.”
Rep. Hilda Santiago, D-Meriden, agreed, saying it was too complicated for the average voter. She also opposed the increased viability of third-party candidates resulting from ranked elections.
“Ranked choice voting helps third parties in a state at the expense of major parties. So we do all the work, we do the door-knocking, we do the research with the major parties and someone can just go on the ballot from a third party who doesn’t know the community, doesn’t know who their constituency is and might just win,” Santiago said.
The bill was tabled and the House adjourned for the night a few minutes later. Afterward, Elliott said that House leadership had given him the go-ahead to lead a short discussion on ranked-choice voting. It was a step he viewed as incremental progress.
“This idea wasn’t so toxic that I wasn’t able to negotiate a half hour for conversation and I think some people just need to hear somebody who’s passionate and understands the idea to explain it,” he said. “Just to let it see the light of day and get people thinking about it.”
Elliott laughed when asked if he received any feedback from his colleagues.
“I think people found it entertaining.”