SALT LAKE CITY — A series of bills in the works in the Utah State Legislature would change how people vote in future elections.
Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City, and Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, are sponsoring a bill that would move Utah to "ranked choice voting" for primary elections in the state.
"It’s one of those things if you survey the public beforehand, they don’t quite get it. If you survey them after, they all love it," Rep. Winder told FOX 13 in a recent interview.
Utah has started dipping its toes into the waters of ranked choice voting. In a traditional election, voters choose one candidate. But under ranked choice voting, you rank them in order of preference from first to least desirable. A pair of Utah County cities experimented with it last year, and the Utah Republican and Democratic parties used it earlier this year when they were forced to go virtual for their state nominating conventions.
The Utah GOP — the state's dominant political party — had a largely positive experience with ranked choice voting. Governor Gary Herbert has endorsed the idea. It has motivated some of the push to broaden it in Utah. Rep. Winder said it results in nicer campaigns (candidates can no longer count on their base alone to get them into office) and can deal with races where there are numerous candidates.
"And the races were so much more positive through the convention when ranked choice voting was in play and people were jockeying for second choices and then after when it went to the primaries it got a little nasty," he said of recent elections.
It's not the only bill being considered with voting. Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, plans to run a bill that would have Utah join a multi-state compact that would award its Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote in a presidential contest. Currently, Utah awards its six electoral votes to the candidate who wins the state.
"I have received phone calls, emails, text messages from voters in my district of course, but voters all over the state of Utah, of all walks of life," Sen. Kitchen said. "So I’m running this as a consensus bill."
Sen. Kitchen said the bill is not new in Utah. Previous legislative sessions, and Republican lawmakers, have considered it.
"I'm the first Democrat that’s running this bill. What that says is that Utahns of all political persuasions — Republicans, independents, Democrats, the like — they all want to see a more functional democratic process when it comes to elections," he said.
But in the context of the 2020 presidential race, Utah's votes would not go to President Trump. Instead, they would go to former Vice-President Joe Biden under the multi-state compact plan. Sen. Kitchen pointed out that for future presidential races, it would likely go back and forth. If the Utah State Legislature passed his bill, the state's electoral votes wouldn't be shifted to the national popular vote winner until enough states joined to be a majority.
Utah has seen success with its voting systems. An astounding 90% turnout was reported this election cycle among active, registered voters. Utah has conducted successful vote-by-mail elections since 2012. House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, is planning to introduce a bill to allow ballots to be postmarked on Election Day.