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South Salt Lake Journal

SSL officials considering ranked choice voting for 2019

Nov 26, 2018 02:31PM ● By Travis Barton

South Salt Lake officials will discuss possibly testing out ranked choice voting in 2019 during its December city council meetings.

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

If Utah shifts to a new voting method in the future, South Salt Lake could be one of its test cases. 

South Salt Lake officials discussed the viability of ranked choice voting for their city during their work meeting on Nov. 14, with several elected officials supporting the idea. 

“I think it’s a great idea,” Councilman Mark Kindred said during the meeting. “San Francisco implemented this in the early 2000s and it totally changed the way campaigns were run to a certain extent and it simplified it. A lot more positive, a lot more participation…I would like to see us proceed down this path.”   

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 percent, 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 someone has the majority. (See sidebar.)

The option for cities to do this comes from House Bill 35, passed overwhelmingly by the legislature in March 2018. Interested cities have until Jan. 1, 2019 to notify the lieutenant governor’s elections office if they want to try it for the 2019 elections. 

Kory Holdaway, a former state representative was hired by national organization to present the idea to multiple Utah cities. He presented to the council on Nov. 14. identifying 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. 

The county does not currently have the equipment to do it, but Holdaway said there is a resource center for Salt Lake County to acquire the necessary module. Though to do this for 2019 would incur a $10,000 cost which could be spread out depending on how many cities participate. This year’s elections cost SSL $25,000, according to City Recorder Craig Burton.

One concern is confusing residents with its implementation, said Burton. He also felt there would be additional cost in training employees who handle the election polling stations. Mayor Cherie Wood said her concern would be potentially losing voter turnout by having two separate voting methods — one for city elections on odd years and another method on even years. 

Holdaway said the legislature is interested in cities doing this. “The legislature wants the data to see if it would be something they would want to have it go statewide.” 

Council and city staff plan to discuss it further during its December council meetings. 

How ranked choice voting would work:

  • Voter ranks candidates A, B and C for first, second and third place. Jane Doe ranks her votes in this order – C, A, B. 
  • If no candidate reaches 51 percent then whoever is in third place would be eliminated. For example: candidate A is 40 percent, B is 35 and C is 25, then candidate C would be eliminated. 
  • Since Jane Doe’s candidate C was eliminated, her vote would then go to A, her second choice. 
  • This process would occur until a candidate reaches a majority.