Ranked-Choice Voting Strengthens Representative Democracy

Credit: Robin Breeding


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To the Editor:

In his column, Hartford Election for Mayor Invites Ranked-Choice Voting, Chris Powell asserts that, in Connecticut, ranked-choice voting would “weaken the far left.” As such, he casts this election reform (that is gaining popularity around the nation) as a partisan tool to weaken the progressive Working Families Party, against which he has an obvious ax to grind.

While Powell is correct that ranked-choice voting tends to elect more moderate candidates, it’s not because it has a bias against the “far left” any more so than it does against “right-wing” candidates. Case in point: if the 2016 Republican primaries had used ranked-choice voting, Donald Trump—considered extreme even then—likely would not have secured the nomination, which he won despite a majority of voters preferring other candidates.  

Ranked-choice elections do not favor Republicans over Democrats, or vice versa; they favor voters by electing the candidate with the broadest support among the electorate, the true consensus candidate.

In a ranked-choice voting election, voters pick their first-choice candidate, and if they wish, also their second and third choices. A candidate wins if they receive a majority of first choice votes, producing the same result as a plurality election. But if no candidate obtains more than half the votes cast, the election is decided by an “instant runoff.” The last-place candidate is eliminated, and the second choices of that candidate’s voters are transferred to the remaining candidates. This process continues until one candidate tallies more than 50 percent of the vote.

Ranked-choice voting strengthens representative democracy because the winning candidate must have the support of a majority of voters, even if the candidate might not have been the first choice of some voters. It eliminates the unintended consequence of plurality elections in which the candidate with the most votes wins, even when a majority of voters favor other candidates. In ranked-choice elections, voters no longer have to worry that if they vote for the candidate they most prefer, they may help elect their least-preferred candidate (the “spoiler effect.”) Nor do they have to concern themselves with splitting the vote among like-minded candidates, allowing a small faction to elect a fringe candidate, as happened in the 2016 GOP primary.

In places where ranked-choice voting is used, including Maine, Alaska and New York City, voters have found the ballots easy to understand, and want to continue using what the American Academy of Arts and Sciences recommends as a key strategy to achieve “equality of voice and representation.” It’s time to bring better elections to Connecticut, where ranked-choice voting bills have been introduced to legislature every year for the past six years.

Jonathan Perloe
Cos Cob

Perloe is a co-founder of Voter Choice Connecticut, the citizen-led effort begun in 2018 to bring to RCV to Connecticut.