After a meeting reportedly attended by no one, which lasted 52 seconds, Utah implemented new rules earlier this week that will allow municipalities in the Beehive State to experiment with ranked choice voting in future elections.
According to Salt Lake City Fox affiliate KSTU, Utah State Elections Director Justin Lee implemented the new pilot program after a meeting in an empty room Monday. “I’ll open it up to any public comment?” Lee said, addressing no one. “Seeing none, we will close the meeting. Thank you.”
Despite the remarkable lack of public input or engagement around the implementation of the program, the actual result has a chance to make local elections in the state more democratic. Ranked choice voting gives voters the chance to rank the candidates based on reference, rather than simply picking one.
If one candidate gets a majority of first-ranked votes, they win. If not, candidates are eliminated in rounds. A candidate with many second-tier votes, for example, could still win if no candidate receives a majority.
This gives third-party candidates a fairer shot in elections, while also, as FairVote.org wrote earlier this year, preventing “spoiler” candidates in closely contested races or races with many candidates.
“Ranked choice voting would give voters in Utah the ability to ensure that local policymakers are elected with majority support without the need for expensive and low turnout preliminary or runoff elections, even in races where a large number of candidates run,” FairVote’s Christopher Rhode wrote. “This would have come in handy last year when the City of Provo held its elections for city council and mayor…. The primary election featured nine different candidates for the position. Three contenders…emerged at the top of the pack, each receiving more than 20 percent of the vote while no other candidate surpassed single digits.”
State Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck (D) has championed ranked choice voting for years in Utah, and she told Fox 13 she hopes it can also help voters overcome some political tribalism.
“Elections, campaigns in general become less vitriolic [when you have ranked choice voting],” she said. “Because as a candidate, I’m trying to persuade not just my base or people that I know for sure are likely to vote for me, but maybe others who might put me second or third.”
As KSTU notes, cities in a few states, including Colorado, California, and Minnesota, have implemented ranked choice voting, and for municipalities in Utah interested in trying, there is a January 1 implementation deadline.
So far, the outlet reported, no city has informed the Lt. Governor’s Office it intends to try out ranked choice voting but some cities have reportedly expressed an interest in it.
“We’re also encouraging constituents that would like to do ranked choice voting in their municipal elections next year to reach out to their city leaders and say ‘Yes, let’s give this a try,'” Chavez-Houck told the outlet.
Maine is currently the only state with statewide ranked choice voting, which is currently the subject of a lawsuit in a closely watched congressional race in the state’s 2nd District.
— Bruce Poliquin (@BrucePoliquin) November 14, 2018
Though voters in the state earlier this year voted to move to a ranked choice system, incumbent Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-ME) is suing, saying he’s “standing up for…voters who voted against Ranked Choice.”
The suit comes after about 8 percent of voters in the state voted for two independents, Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar. According to the Bangor Daily News, once those ballots are counted, Jared Golden, Poliquin’s Democratic challenger, would become the official victor.