Advocates Plan Strategy for Ranked Choice in Legislative Session

In the upcoming legislative session, lawmakers in Hartford will need to tackle COVID relief head-on, deal with a looming budget crisis, and they may work to legalize recreational marijuana. Still, some activists are pushing to put another issue on the agenda: ranked-choice voting.  

The voting change has been long supported by third parties as a way to eliminate the “spoiler effect,” where votes for a third-party candidate draw votes from a similar major-party candidate, causing the other candidate to win. Maine and Alaska already use ranked-choice voting, and Massachusetts held a ballot referendum to consider the change, though the measure lost in November.

The change would allow Connecticut voters to list candidates in order of preference, submitting ballots with their first-choice candidate, but also their second-choice, third, and so on.

Advocates for ranked-choice voting in Connecticut gathered via Zoom on Dec. 11 to discuss its political prospects. Hosted by Voter Choice CT, the meeting included more than 60 participants, including three state legislators, who joined to offer advice to the effort.

“Our primary goal is to pass a study bill through the state legislature,” said Jonathan Perloe, who opened the meeting by outlining the organization’s legislative strategy. Perloe sits on the steering committee of Voter Choice CT.

“This is an election reform that would have significant implications for how elections work, and trying to rush it through the legislature would not be a smart way to go about this,” he said.

State Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, introduced a bill calling for a task force to examine ranked-choice voting in 2019, and the bill successfully passed the House in May, but was not taken up by the Senate. State Rep. Mike Winkler, D-Vernon, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the goal of reintroducing the study bill was a reasonable one. 

“You have a very realistic goal,” Winkler said. “All you’re trying to do is get a study committee, and many legislators will vote for study committees for items they would vote against if they were on the floor.” 

Still, Elliott emphasized the uphill battle facing Voter Choice CT, saying leadership had indicated that this session will be narrowly focused on COVID relief and a few other major priorities. 

“The timeframe we have to do this is very small,” Elliott said. “For us in the House, we need to be letting caucus members know by December 21st what our priorities are for our first caucus issues meeting going into next year. This is going to be a very difficult year to get something like this done, but I’m very much with you and will be pushing from the inside.” 

State Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, also downplayed the likelihood of passing legislation, but said the remote session would have benefits, too. 

“This is going to be a tough session to pass anything, but it will probably also be the most accessible session in history, because remote hearings have the potential to bring a lot of new voices up to the capitol,” Haskell said. 

Adam Friedman, founder of Rank the Vote and Voter Choice Massachusetts, also joined the meeting to share his experience advocating for ranked choice voting in a neighboring state. 

The Massachusetts ballot referendum lost by five percentage points, but Friedman cautioned activists to focus on the long game rather than individual wins and losses. 

“Ten years ago, town clerks and election machine vendors didn’t know what ranked-choice voting was,” Friedman said. “Now two states have passed ranked-choice voting statewide, and we’ve enacted ranked-choice voting on some level for political elections in 25 states.” 

Friedman also shared his optimism about Connecticut’s chances at passing the election reform. 

“Your legislature has a ton of friendly supporters for ranked-choice voting, and the fact that you’ve already passed a bill through one chamber is a profound achievement,” Friedman said. “Your Secretary of the State is favorable to ranked-choice voting, so you have lots of friends in high places, which matters a lot.”

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