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Lawmakers consider letting voters rank choices for candidates

By Ryan Morgan | Posted - Feb. 22, 2017 at 8:17 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Democratic and Republican lawmakers joined together Wednesday to present a bill that would allow voters to rank their preferred candidates in certain elections.

Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, asked Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Santaquin, to join her before the House Government Operations Committee to present HB349, a bill that would use ranked-choice voting in elections when there are more than two candidates on the ballot.

"I think my co-sponsor and I approached this from different perspectives, but we do believe in one thing and that is that voters should feel that their voices are heard," Chavez-Houck said.

She cited frustrations felt within both major parties as an opportunity to introduce ranked-choice voting.

HB349 would apply ranked voting broadly, from presidential races to municipal elections.

"This is something that I have been passionate about for quite some time now," Roberts said.

He previously attempted to pass a similar bill after legislation was approved to allow voters to select alternate delegates if their first choices were not able to attend a party convention. It also enabled unaffiliated voters to take part in party primaries.

"In our current climate, we don't vote for people, especially in the last election," Roberts said. "You end up voting against somebody."

He cited Australia as an example of a country that has successfully implemented ranked voting.

"I think if we are going to be honest with ourselves, we should consider this at all forms of government," Roberts said.

Brendan Phillips, a self-described third-party voter, said his voting preferences have often drawn the accusation that he was spoiling the chances of more viable candidates.

"I don't see it that way, and I would like to be able to vote for the candidate of my conscience," Phillips said. "Ranked-choice voting allows me to do that and still have some say in the other candidates."

Nancy Lord, a former Republican national committeewoman representing Utah, said a ranked-voting system would resolve issues with a plurality vote.

"Runoffs are the past. Ranked-choice voting is the future," Lord said.

The ranked-choice voting method, she said, would also encourage friendlier campaigns.

Arie Van De Graaff, a legislative analyst for the Utah Association of Counties, said Utah's counties "have concern with this idea of ranked-choice voting."

"Administratively, this is something we cannot do right now. In order to do it, we would have to have all new equipment," he said.

Van De Graff was the only member of the public to oppose the measure, citing a $10 million cost in getting the voting machines to handle the specific election.

HB349 does not yet have any money appropriated to cover the cost of the machines.

Roberts said he had appealed to the lieutenant governor's office to replace the voting machines with technology that can support a ranked-choice vote.

The committee voted 8-1 to pass the measure to the House floor for further consideration.

Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, cast the dissenting vote. Email:

Ryan Morgan


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