2 Utah cities test new voting method allowing voters to rank candidates from first to last

In this file photo, a voter casts her ballot on a voting machine during the GOP primary elections, St. George, Utah, June 26, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

PROVO, Utah — Two small Utah cities tested an alternative method of voting that allows people to rank candidates from first to last during the recent municipal elections.

File photo  shows voters casting early ballots using electronic voting machines at the city offices in St. George. St. George, Utah, November 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Six cities had planned to test the ranked-choice system, but four backed out over concerns about how to explain how it works to voters, the Daily Herald reports. Other cities in Salt Lake County passed on the opportunity because they didn’t have the proper election equipment.

Vineyard and Payson were the municipalities that tried out a method that allows voters to rank candidates from first to last. If none of the candidates gets more than 50% of the first-place votes, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated and those votes go to the voter’s second choice. The process continues for several rounds until a candidate gets the majority of votes.

The Utah Legislature passed a measure in 2018 that allows cities to use the method if they choose.

Vineyard, a fast-growing city of 10,000 on the shores of Utah Lake, had one city council race go through seven rounds and another through six rounds.

Only a few voters called in saying they were confused by the process, said Vineyard City Recorder Pamela Spencer. She said she considered the experiment a success.

“I don’t think there were any more hiccups than you would’ve had in a general regular election,” Spencer said.

She said one advantage of the method is that it allows cities to skip primary elections, allowing cities to save money by holding only one election.

“We don’t get a lot of people that vote in the primary election,” Spencer said. “But what they don’t realize is that they are nominating those people to move on to the general election. So if they don’t vote in the primary, they could risk the person (they voted for) not moving on … and you do away with that by having a single election.”

Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Santaquin, who sponsored the bill letting cities opt to use ranked choice, told the Daily Herald in January that another benefit of the system is that candidates have to appeal broadly to all voters rather than to their narrow base.

“You can’t just go after the base as much,” he said, “because you want second- and third-place votes.”

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