SALT LAKE CITY — This year's municipal election isn't over yet, but supporters of ranked choice voting are pushing forward with plans to expand it in future elections.
"If voters love ranked choice voting and we hope that they do, then we expect the legislature will be favorable toward those bills that will be proposed this year," said Stan Lockhart with Utah Ranked Choice Voting, a group that has been pushing for widespread adoption of the voting method.
This year, 23 cities across Utah agreed to participate in a pilot project to see if it works. The biggest race it's being utilized in is the Sandy mayoral contest where there are eight candidates. Outside Sandy City Hall on Tuesday, voters gave FOX 13 mixed reviews on it.
One man said he was confused by it initially, but then figured it out. One woman said she liked it because it allowed her to research all candidates and decide which she prefers. Another said he preferred traditional voting methods, but was OK if it was a permanent fixture.
Under a traditional election, you pick one candidate. Under a ranked choice election, you decide them in order of preference. It is possible for a candidate who comes in second in the first round of balloting to actually win by getting enough second, third and fourth choice votes. Proponents say it makes for friendlier and more civil elections, as candidates can't rely on a base of supporters to turn out and must appeal to a wider variety of voters. But critics point to the steep learning curve of voters having to understand ranked choice elections.
The Utah Republican Party and the Utah Democratic Party have both used ranked choice voting to select candidates in the past at their state conventions. Lockhart said ironically, some conservative activists are opposing the very thing they used to champion.
"Conservative, grassroots activists brought ranked choice voting to the state and now some conservative, grassroots activists don’t like ranked choice voting," he told reporters on Tuesday.
Former state lawmakers Rebecca Chavez-Houck and Marc Roberts successfully passed legislation to allow for ranked choice voting to even be tried in Utah.
"We felt it was a good test arena. A good way of testing things out in the municipal election," said Chavez-Houck.
Utah's experiment with ranked choice voting is significant. Lockhart said he was told that outside of New York City, Utah's is the largest use of the election method.
"It's a big deal," he said.
Municipal elections often don't see big turnout. The Salt Lake County Clerk said as of Tuesday morning, voter turnout was around 20%. Utah County Clerk Josh Daniels said by the end of Election Day, he expected 35% in his county.
At least two lawmakers in the Utah State Legislature are drafting bills to expand ranked choice voting as an option in the state, including potentially to statewide races. Daniels said when Vineyard and Payson tried it, 82% of voters reported liking ranked choice voting and 87% of candidates preferred it.
"I think it’s fine. I think it’s a good option. I think it’s possible to do it statewide," he said. "I think it could solve some of the plurality issues, so I think rightfully we should be considering it."