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Voter Group Creates Mock Election To Raise Awareness Of Ranked-Choice Voting

Photo of ballot. / Ralf Geithe

A new mock election gives both voters and nonvoters the opportunity to try a new voting method in Salt Lake City’s crowded mayoral race.

The Salt Lake chapter of the League of Women Voters of Utah is holding the online election to help educate voters about ranked-choice voting.

The Utah Legislature authorized a pilot program for the voting method in 2018. While a handful of Utah cities originally expressed interest, only two — Vineyard and Payson — will use ranked-choice voting for their municipal elections this year.

Advocates say it’s a missed opportunity in Salt Lake City, where eight candidates are vying to be the next mayor.

“We thought instead, we would show everyone how easy it is,” said the League’s Salt Lake chapter president Kathy Biele. “What a great choice this would be for elections in the future.”

Unlike standard elections, where voters choose one candidate, ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank the candidates in their order of preference. After all the votes are tallied, the candidate with the fewest first-place rankings is eliminated. Those votes are then redistributed to each ballot’s second-place choice, and that process is repeated until one candidate surpasses 50 percent.

Ashley Moretz moved to Salt Lake last year from Oakland, a city that uses ranked-choice voting in municipal elections.

“To be honest, I didn’t really think much about it because that’s just the way the elections were,” he said. But after looking more into how it works, Moretz wants Salt Lake and other Utah cities to try it.

Photo of Ashley Moretz.
Credit Nicole Nixon / KUER
Ashley Moretz participated in the League of Women Voters' mock election.

“One of the things that I like most about it is that it promotes positive campaigning,” he said. He believes candidates are more focused on appealing to voters in order to get high rankings, rather than trying to tear each other down.

Biele agrees and adds that ranked-choice voting often gives third-party candidates a better chance.

“It allows people to actually vote for the people that they care about,” she said. “There is no spoiler effect in ranked-choice voting,” she said.

Moretz voted in the mock election, ranking David Garbett first, followed by Luz Escamilla and Stan Penfold.

After he finished, preliminary results showed Escamilla in the lead with Penfold in second. Garbett, Moretz’ first choice, was in third.

Even though it’s a fake election and voting is still open, Moretz says he wouldn’t mind the outcome since Escamilla was his second choice anyway.He hopes city and county leaders take another look at adopting ranked-choice voting for future elections.

In a candidate survey for KUER, most mayoral hopefuls said they would support adopting or exploring ranked-choice voting in the future. 

Salt Lake City Councilmembers said earlier this year that they did not adopt the system because it would have taken significant time and money to provide voter outreach and education. 

Biele said the mock election is also meant to familiarize voters with the election process

“It explains the process as you go along. It’s just a really good way of finding out what ranked-choice voting is and not to be frightened of it,” she said.

She also warned that the results are not scientific. 

“It’s not reflective of the real world. I want to make that clear that if Luz and Stan end up winning, that is not necessarily what’s going to happen” after the Aug. 13 primary, Biele said.

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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