Hartford’s Democratic primary for mayor Sept. 12, which will be the equivalent of the general election in November, may give Connecticut another reason to enact the runoff election mechanism known as ranked-choice voting.
Under ranked-choice voting, voters designate not just the candidate who is their first choice but also second and even third choices. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote, votes received by candidates who finish third or lower are transferred to the two leading candidates in accordance with each voter’s indications. Ranked-choice voting’s purpose is to build a majority and prevent unrepresentative candidates from winning with a minority of the vote.
Hartford’s mayoral primary will have three candidates — Arunan Arulampalam, a lawyer and chief executive of the Hartford Land Bank, who has the endorsement of the Hartford Democratic City Committee; and two challengers, state Sen. John Fonfara and Eric Coleman, a former state judge, representative, and senator. Since the challengers are well known and regarded, the winner of the primary probably will receive less than a majority vote and a runoff election between the top two vote getters well might produce a different winner and a more small-d democratic result.
Next month’s Democratic primaries for mayor in New Haven and Bridgeport, which also will be tantamount to election, will have only two candidates each, but with a little more competent petitioning, they also well could have had three or more candidates, creating the same prospect of a winner being chosen by less than a majority.
In recent decades Connecticut has had elections for governor and U.S. senator in which the winner did not gain a majority and a runoff vote probably would have produced a winner who would have pursued policies very different from those that were pursued by the plurality winner.
In 1970 Connecticut native James L. Buckley, who died this month, was elected U.S. senator in New York with only 39% of the vote in a three-way race. Buckley was a pro-Vietnam War conservative running on the Conservative Party line against two anti-war liberals, a Democratic and a Republican, and almost certainly would not have been elected if the anti-war vote had not been split.
Indeed, though Buckley was brilliant, principled, and affable, he was easily defeated for re-election by a Democrat in the 1976 election when the liberal vote was not split. (He ran for senator in Connecticut in 1980 but lost again in a two-candidate race.)
The main argument against ranked-choice voting is that it may confuse voters. Indeed, it might confuse some at first. But it’s not rocket science, and electing a candidate opposed by the majority might be even more confusing.
In Connecticut most opposition to ranked-choice voting seems to come from conservatives. Is this because conservatives can imagine winning in Connecticut only when the majority party, the Democratic Party, is split? If so, conservatives are failing to see that the most likely practical effect of ranked-choice voting in Connecticut would be to moderate the Democratic Party.
For in Connecticut as in other states, the far left exerts its control over the Democratic Party in large part through the mechanism of a separate far-left party — in Connecticut, the Working Families Party, which mainly advances the interests of government employees and other government dependents. Ordinarily the Working Families Party cross-endorses Democrats, giving them two lines on the ballot.
But any Democratic nominee suspected of moderation and lack of subservience to the government employee unions can be threatened with the loss of the Working Families Party cross-endorsement and with the party’s nomination of its own candidate, taking votes away from the Democrat.
Ranked-choice voting would greatly diminish the extortion power of extremist third parties, since most people voting for an extremist third-party candidate would designate a second-choice candidate closest ideologically to their first choice. In Connecticut Working Families Party voters would gravitate toward the next-most-leftist candidate, a Democrat, even one suspected of moderation.
That is, in Connecticut ranked-choice voting would weaken the far left.
Chris Powell has written about Connecticut government and politics for many years. (CPowell@cox.net)