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Utah Cities Will Experiment With Ranked Choice Voting Next Year

Photo of ballot envelope.
Renee Bright / KUER

Some Utah voters might see a different style of ballot in November 2019, when they vote on mayor and city council members.

A handful of Utah cities are jumping on board to experiment in an election method called ranked choice voting.

Ranked-choice voting eliminates primary elections and, like the name implies, allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate gets a clear majority, the lowest vote-getter is eliminated, and those votes are then distributed to the voters’ second choices. That process is repeated until a candidate wins a majority.

In 2016, Maine moved all of its state and federal elections to ranked choice voting. Cities in California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Mexico also use ranked choice voting to elect candidates.

“As candidates, what you’re trying to do is convince a large universe of voters to support you,” said Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City. “Because you’re hoping that even if they don’t rank you first, maybe they’ll rank you second or third.”

Chavez-Houck has been trying to implement ranked choice voting in Utah for years. Earlier this year she sponsored a bill that created a pilot project for cities to try ranked choice voting beginning in 2019.

The Democrat is retiring from the legislature in the new year but said she was excited to see how ranked choice voting elections play out in cities that decide to implement them.

Chavez-Houck believes the voting method will increase participation from both voters and candidates. She argues when candidates try to appeal to a broader base, they focus more on issues rather than attacks and negative vitriol.

“I think that in this time of divisiveness in our country, that’s something voters really hanker for,” she said. “I’m excited to see how this tests in the cities that are giving it a whirl.”

State Elections Director Justin Lee said before Christmas his office had received letters from West Jordan and Lehi indicating interest in trying the new voting method. Other cities including Payson, Cottonwood Heights and Vineyard have passed resolutions expressing interest, but Lee said he had not received letters from those municipalities before the holiday.

The Provo City Council declared its intent to participate in the program for its 2021 municipal elections.

The deadline for cities to opt in to the pilot program is Jan. 1. Cities also have an option to back out of the project until May 2019.

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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