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Cities across Utah to decide on ranked-choice ballots

This sample ballot from FairVote.Org demonstrates what a ranked-choice ballot would look like.

SALT LAKE CITY — An Election Day experiment in Maine could soon be coming to other states, including Utah: ranked-choice ballots.

A new state law allows cities in Utah to try the system out, but they have to let the state elections office know soon.

Former State Representative Kory Holdaway has been telling city councils around the state about why they should go for it.

“It promotes greater voter participation where it has been done in other areas of the country,” he said. “Voters become much more engaged, wanting to find out where candidates are at. You are voting for people instead of against people in terms of ranking them according to your preference.”

In ranked-choice elections, all the candidates go on the ballot and voters pick their first, second, third, etc. choices. Second and third choices only come into play in the event a runoff is needed — if, for example, no candidate obtains a majority of the vote in the first round of voting. In that event, the losing candidate’s first choice votes are eliminated, and the tally is counted again until there is a winner who has a majority of the votes. This is also known as an instant runoff voting system.

Right now, the law only applies this to non-partisan city elections, but Holdaway says eventually it could move past municipal voting to include statewide races, where all the candidates would go on the general ballot in the fall.

“It eliminates the need for a primary election, so you have more voters making the decision. You’ve got those voters coming up with a 50 percent plus one rather than a plurality,” he said.

Holdaway says the city councils have to inform the State Elections Office by Jan. 1, 2019, if they are going to do it for their next municipal elections.

“If come March or April they decide it’s something that isn’t going to work, there’s no penalty. They can always go back to the old format,” he said.