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South Valley Journal

City officials to discuss possibility of ranked choice voting for 2021 elections

Nov 02, 2020 03:11PM ● By Travis Barton

Riverton city officials will gather more information on ranked choice voting to discuss in the future.

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

A new method of voting in elections could potentially come to Riverton for the city’s 2021 elections. 

But a lot would need to happen before then. 

The Riverton City Council and city officials discussed ranked choice voting at their Oct. 6 council meeting. 

Ranked choice voting works like this: Instead of choosing one candidate as is currently done, you would instead rank them in first place, second place and so on. If no candidate reaches 51%, a clear majority, then the candidate with the least votes is eliminated. Those who voted for the eliminated candidate would then see their votes assigned to their second choice. This continues until one has the majority.  

Kory Holdaway, a former state representative who presented the concept to various Salt Lake County cities in 2018, presented it again to the council on Oct. 6. Holdaway now represents Utah Ranked Choice Voting, a nonprofit 501c3, that champions the electoral reform. 

Holdaway identifies various benefits to the process. 

One would be a more engaged resident, he said. Ranking candidates would require a more informed voter. Second, he suggested campaigns would be more civil. Candidates would want to appeal to as many voters as you can. “The focus would be more on issues than personalities,” he said. 

Third, the city would need to run only one election, jettisoning the primary election—held in June—for the general election held in November. 

Currently, Salt Lake County has reportedly not shown much interest, but Utah County has with Vineyard and Payson both testing out the system for their elections last year. 

Holdaway reported that 66% of residents polled found it very easy to use and another 20% found it somewhat easy to use. 

Two primary proponents for the system were Councilwomen Tish Buroker and Tawnee McCay. Buroker noted the city’s most recent election had only 36% participation and felt it might be time to try it. McCay pointed to an election race back east that used ranked choice voting where the candidates recommended voting for a specific candidate if they didn’t vote for them. 

“I appreciate the civility it can bring to campaigns,” McCay said. 

While Councilmen Troy McDougal and Claude Wells asked different questions about the process, Councilman Sheldon Stewart was skeptical, pointing out Holdaway is a lobbyist and used to represent a national organization called FairVote, which Stewart felt had a political agenda. Stewart was also concerned about voter fatigue with the process. 

Holdaway felt that was a red herring. “The benefits you see from it far outweigh some of the red herrings that are thrown up,” he said. 

McCay also noted that they could do this for the city’s elections in 2021, when her seat is up for reelection. “Try it out on mine,” she said. 

Before it can even come to Riverton though, one of three things would need to happen. The county clerk’s office would need to implement it, the city would need to do its elections with Utah County, or city leaders would need to contract with another entity. 

Holdaway is encouraging cities to send a formal letter of interest to the county clerk’s office to hopefully soften her opposition. 

But as of right now, city officials will gather more information on the process independently and bring it back to the council for more discussion at a future date.