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Lawmakers Pull Bait and Switch

The House submitted an amendment Wednesday (May 24) that substituted language on a bill that was completely unrelated to its original intent. 

The amendment, proposed by Rep. Joshua Elliot (D-88th), aims to change a bill that dealt with how town clerks are to handle instances where candidates drop out of an election after ballots are printed to, instead, implementing ranked-choice voting (RCV) for presidential primaries. The title of the raised bill — “An Act Concerning the Appearance of Unfilled Vacancies in Candidacies on the Ballot” — remains unchanged. 

Contrary to a plurality vote where the candidate with the most votes wins, RCV provides voters the option to rank order candidates on their ballots. A candidate must secure more than 50 percent of first-place votes to be declared a winner. If no candidate gets a majority of first-place votes, then that will prompt a new counting process. The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated; so, if a voter ranked the losing candidate as their first choice, and that candidate is eliminated, then their second option replaces the first. This process will continue until a candidate receives a majority of votes. 

(For more information on Ranked Choice Voting, find Yankee Institute’s study here) 

The public hearing on the original bill, when it accurately reflected its title, was held on March 6 and only received four written testimonies — mostly in favor. 

There is no clear reason why Rep. Josh Elliot is playing a shell game with legislation. Three separate bills — SB 389, HB 5087 and HB 5701 — regarding RCV were put forth this session by the General Administration and Election Committee.  All three had a public hearing on the same day as the ‘bait and switch’ bill. In other words, there were three separate opportunities to be transparent with the public when moving this issue forward. 

In a March interview Rep. Matt Blumenthal (D-147th), who co-chairs the panel, said, “There was no consensus on the committee whether to move forward with ranked choice voting and little time to explore the issue given more pressing priorities like advancing early voting policies in the wake of a constitutional amendment allowing for the practice in Connecticut.” 

Secretary of the State, Stephanie Thomas was critical of RCV cautioning legislators during her testimony “that ranked-choice voting may not be the panacea to our broken politics that you are looking for. Aside from the significant implementation challenges Connecticut would face, there are other factors unique to our state that would make this policy especially problematic, including our minor party ballot access rules, Town Committee structure, and CEP funding regulations.” 

She added, “So while ranked-choice voting is a unique electoral reform, it may not be what will work best for Connecticut as we explore our electoral future.” 

The Connecticut Working Families Party (WFP) also opposed RCV. The party’s Senior Political Strategist Lindsay Farrell stated, “Ranked choice voting in its purest incarnation focuses on individual candidates, marginalizes party formations, and cancels out fusion cross-endorsement rules. WFP will oppose any RCV legislation which compromises our fusion election system in this state, or makes third party cross-endorsement votes indistinguishable from major party votes.” 

Coincidentally, the WFP endorsed Rep. Elliot in past elections; and if his amendment passes, RCV could be used as early as the 2024 presidential primary. 

Altering pieces of legislation after a public hearing raises significant concerns about transparency, public trust, and the integrity of the legislative process. Striking a balance between incorporating public input and making necessary modifications can be challenging. It is essential for lawmakers to be transparent, accountable, and responsive to the concerns and feedback received during public hearings, ensuring that any changes made to legislation post-hearing are well-justified and consistent with the public interest. 


****Article Updated Incorrectly referenced Representative Joshua Hall.


Meghan Portfolio

Meghan worked in the private sector for two decades in various roles in management, sales, and project management. She was an intern on a presidential campaign and field organizer in a governor’s race. Meghan, a Connecticut native, joined Yankee Institute in 2019 as the Development Manager. After two years with Yankee, she has moved into the policy space as Yankee’s Manager of Research and Analysis. When she isn’t keeping up with local and current news, she enjoys running–having completed seven marathons–and reading her way through Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.

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