Only two cities have signed up to participate in Utah’s ranked choice voting experiment

Posted at 4:08 PM, Apr 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-12 18:16:23-04

SALT LAKE CITY — With a Monday deadline, it appears only two cities in Utah have signed up to participate in the ranked choice voting experiment.

The Lt. Governor’s Office said the Utah County communities of Vineyard and Payson have agreed to give it a try. West Jordan, Cottonwood Heights and Lehi have all dropped out.

The Utah State Legislature this year extended the deadline for communities to sign up to April 15.

Earlier this week, Kaysville’s City Council held a special meeting to consider whether to opt-in to the experiment. Public comment was largely in favor of it, but council members had concerns.

“I personally would not feel comfortable voting on this tonight,” Mayor Katie Witt said.

Council members expressed concerns about pushing the new method of voting and there being a glitch. The Davis County Clerk’s Office said it was interested in trying it, but couldn’t get the software up and running in time for the November municipal elections.

Kaysville City Councilwoman Michelle Barber was disappointed.

“So often, governments can fall into ‘we’ll just do it the way we’ve always done things and we don’t challenge.’ There’s a lot of wisdom in making sure things are vetted out, but that’s what we’re here for,” she said.

Ranked choice voting is a new way of voting. Right now, you pick one candidate (essentially deciding if they’re “hot or not”). Under ranked choice, you pick them from “first to worst.” A candidate who gets enough second, third choice votes, etc., could rise to the top and win a race.

Supporters say it makes candidates run better races because they can’t rely on a base and go for scorched-earth politics. But critics say it can be confusing.

“Younger voters are really motivated by this, we find,” said Kory Holdaway, an advocate for ranked choice voting. “Millenials, Gen X, they like being able to rank. It’s more in their wheelhouse.”

Salt Lake City has faced a lot of pressure to jump into the ranked choice experiment. City Councilman Chris Wharton said he has received a number of communications from constituents asking for Utah’s capital city to participate.

There are 10 candidates so far in the race to replace retiring Mayor Jackie Biskupski. Without ranked choice, all 10 (and however many more jump in) will face a jungle primary.

Councilman Wharton said they are unable to get their systems up and running in time and educate voters on how to do a ranked-choice election.

“I favor ranked choice voting and most members of the council do as well,” he told FOX 13 on Friday. “We’re stuck, though, this year. Ultimately, the county makes decisions on how ranked choice voting will be implemented. The city contracts with the county and they provide our election services. They won’t be able to until 2021 at the earliest.”

The new law gives cities until 2026 to opt-in to the experiment. Wharton said it was possible they could try it in 2021.