This November, we’re facing a situation in several municipal races where the “winner” might not be the candidate most of us support.

In such cases, voters often hesitate to back the candidate they genuinely favor, worried their vote might end up being “wasted” or inadvertently aid the candidate they least prefer. This predicament stems from our existing single-choice, no-runoff voting method. It’s a one-shot deal that doesn’t reflect the majority’s will, especially evident in multi-candidate races. This system also leads to diminishing voter participation, especially evident this year in cities like Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven.

State Sens. Tony Hwang and Cathy Osten.

Voter turnout for this year’s primary elections in cities across the state was significantly down compared to two years ago. Norwalk showed the lowest turnout rate at 4.9%. Hartford had 14%, New Haven 24% and Bridgeport 26%. In fact, only one Connecticut town, North Canaan, saw over half its eligible voters cast ballots at its primary.

People need to believe that their vote is going to make a difference. Take a look at the race for First Selectman in Stonington. With four contenders in the mix, it’s possible for a candidate to “win” with just over 25% of the vote, leaving the rest of the voters — nearly 75% — out in the cold, their preferences overlooked.

Why are we stuck with this system? It’s due to our state’s Election Law, which mandates this system and restricts municipalities from adopting alternatives like Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), a solution that would ensure that the majority’s voice is heard.

RCV isn’t complex; it’s about fairness and inclusion. Used by over 14 million voters across 29 states, it allows voters to rank candidates by preference. If a candidate garners more than half of the first-choice votes, they’re the winner. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is out, and their supporters’ next-ranked preferences are considered. This process continues until one candidate has a majority.

In times when confidence in our democratic process is shaky, embracing RCV could revitalize faith in the election system. It reassures voters that their voices count, it motivates diverse candidates to run, and it enhances the richness of our political discourse.

Moreover, RCV fosters a more respectful, less polarized campaign environment and leads to consensus candidates, appealing to a broader base of voters.

RCV has also proven effective in places where party primary elections are decisive, with general elections often seen as mere formalities. New York City’s 2021 municipal primary is a case in point. RCV contributed to electing the most diverse, representative government the city has ever seen, by empowering voters to express their true preferences without fear. 

RCV has also proven to increase voter participation. In 2020, Ranked Choice Voting led to a 9.6 point increase in turnout in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, showing the greatest increases in precincts with higher poverty rates. A University of Utah study on the 2020 Presidential Primaries also found that ranked-choice voting increased enthusiasm and participation among minority voters.

What’s more, RCV isn’t a partisan issue. It enjoys broad and bipartisan support. Last session, we joined a bipartisan group of legislators in the Connecticut General Assembly in proposing a bill that would introduce a Ranked Choice Voting option in municipal elections and in presidential preference primaries, an initiative that Gov. Ned Lamont endorsed. This year, we hope to see more progress and we will also work to ensure that registrars of voters have the resources and support they need to implement this new system.

Recent Quinnipiac polling revealed a startling fact: approximately 70% of voters across political lines fear that ‘the nation’s democracy is in danger of collapse.’ In light of this, there’s an undeniable need to reinforce the legitimacy and effectiveness of our electoral processes. Voters need to be confident that their vote is going to make a difference, especially in our state’s cities like Bridgeport, Hartford, and New Haven where voter participation is declining.

Giving voters the autonomy to opt for RCV in their municipal elections could be a significant step toward restoring trust and ensuring that the majority’s voice is decisive.

Submitted jointly by Sens. Tony Hwang (R-Fairfield) and Cathy Osten (D-Sprague).