Earlier this year, the Utah State Legislature passed a bill that would allow more cities to try ranked-choice voting in their local elections this fall.
Ranked-choice voting allows voters to choose who their first choice for a position is and then rank every other candidate in the order they would like. What vote counters are looking for is a 50% majority for one candidate. If this doesn’t happen, the person with the lowest number of votes are eliminated and the votes for that candidate are given to the voters second choice candidate. This is done until a 50% majority has been reached.
North Logan is one of the cities that is looking into trying this system. According to North Logan Mayor Damon Cann, the city wants to make sure the city voters are confident using the system.
“And if we get feedback that says our residents aren't, aren't there yet, and they don't have a comfort level with this kind of a system, then we're going to need to spend the money to make sure that our residents feel like they have a fair shot at participating in elections in a way they feel comfortable,” Cann said.
The idea may seem complicated at first glance. Josh Daniels of the Utah County Clerk's office said that before trying this kind of election in 2019, they tested the ballots with community members of all ages without giving any special instructions.
“We found that voters caught on really quickly, and that just the mere ballot design itself seemed self-explanatory enough for the voter to rank their choices," Daniels said.
Vineyard and Payson administered a ranked choice voting election in 2019. After voters voted, Daniels said they took a survey on their experience.
"We polled voters who had actually participated in those particular elections, and over 80% of voters said that they would like to use rank choice voting as a method in the future for future municipal elections or even for broader elections throughout the state," he said.
Not only will ranked choice voting eliminate the need for a primary election, it also eliminates the need to hold a runoff elections. But despite the benefits, the system can seem hard to implement.
When the bill allowing ranked choice voting was first introduced earlier this year, it required county clerks to administer this type of election if the city chose to hold it. The mandatory nature of this bill caused people to push back.
This was passed in the State House but once the bill hit the Senate, the bill’s sponsor Rep. Jeff Stenquist, said changes were made.
“We ended up coming up with a compromise, which would allow a city to contract with a county outside of the county that they they're in," he said.
Stenquist said this isn’t a perfect solution.
“You have cities shopping around to different counties, to conduct their elections," Stenquist said. "And you might have Utah County conducting elections for Ogden, or for Heber city or some of these other cities”
Salt Lake County was one area where the clerks were skeptical about holding these elections. When the bill was changed, they started working with Utah County to hold their elections.
“Now that that's happened, I think that's kind of woken up Salt Lake County [clerks] to say that they now have communicated to cities that they are wanting to conduct these elections," Stenquist said.
Stenquist said that even during the finalization of this bill, cities were expressing interest in this voting system.
“My own city included Draper, Herrmann, Bluffdale, Riverton, Cottonwood Heights, you know, lots of cities in Salt Lake County and outfitted solid County," he said. "I talked to that were interested in it.”
Cities have until May 10th to vote and decide whether or not to hold this type of election in the 2021 municipal election.