In 1994, we had such a close election in Connecticut’s 2nd Congressional district that it took six months to settle, at millions of dollars in cost. It was “won” by 20 votes (42.5% of the vote each, for Gejdenson and Munster). I ran that year as the A Connecticut Party candidate, got about 27,000 votes (17%), and was considered by powerful Republicans and Democrats to have been a “spoiler” who should have stayed out of the race.
The majority of the voters (57.5%) had voted against the “winner,” who went to Washington that year wounded and without any mandate. Had there been a ranked choice voting (RCV) system in place, that election would have produced a true consensus candidate, since the votes of those who voted for me would have been transferred to the second choice candidate on their ballots. The resulting winner could claim support from a majority of the voters in the district. The odds are very high that the election would have been quickly decided, with far less rancor and finger-pointing, and no expensive legal costs.
Alternative party candidates should be welcome in our elections, bringing good candidates and new ideas without the stigma of “spoiling” the results by dividing up the votes of candidates who may have similar agendas but different priorities. It should not be that as a result of entering a race as a third-party or independent candidate one could throw the victory to the person they think is least qualified for the job. People want to be able to vote their conscience without having to vote for the “lesser of 2 evils,” unless their favorite has clearly lost and come in last. They want candidates worth bothering vote for, not the “same old same old” party regulars.
RCV requires that the winner get a majority of all votes cast in the election, and simply entails ranking the candidates you prefer by marking each one as your first, second or third choice on the ballot in races where there are three or four candidates running for a single seat. (If there are more candidates, you can rank them all.) If there is no majority winner in the first round of voting, votes are transferred from the candidate who comes in last to the second choices of all who had put that last-place candidate first. The votes are then recounted instantly (second round of voting). If there is still no winner, the process is repeated instantly, transferring votes from the remaining last-place contestant to the next preferences of the voters, again repeating if no candidate has won a majority.
Everyone only gets a single vote, but by ranking your preference, that vote can be transferred one or more times to your next preference if the candidate you prefer comes in last in that round and no candidate has yet garnered a majority of the votes cast in that round.
Our legislators should be asked to support RCV in the coming legislative session, by initiating a study this year to see how and why it should be applied under Connecticut law. We need the study to properly vet a bill to consider in the next session, to empower and respect minority groups and all who wish to strengthen our democracy by making elections reflect more accurately the will of the people.
David Bingham MD of Salem was a 1994 Congressional candidate (A Connecticut Party), 1996 State Senate candidate (Republican Party), and is Co-Chair of the CT League of Conservation Voters (Non-partisan).