SALT LAKE CITY — There will be a significant increase in the use of ranked-choice voting within Utah this year.
Nearly two dozen Utah municipalities informed state elections officials they will opt into the state's ranked-choice voting pilot this fall, including the only two cities — Payson and Vineyard — that opted into the program in 2019.
Monday was the last day municipalities had to inform the Lt. Gov.'s Office, which oversees elections, if they would participate in the state's ranked-choice pilot study. According to state officials, the 23 municipalities that informed the state they will test ranked-choice voting in 2021 are:
- Cottonwood Heights
- Elk Ridge, Utah County
- Genola, Utah County
- Goshen, Utah County
- Heber City
- Newton, Cache County
- Nibley, Cache County
- Payson (second time using ranked-choice voting)
- River Heights, Cache County
- Salt Lake City
- South Salt Lake
- Vineyard (second time using ranked-choice voting)
- Woodland Hills, Utah County
Advocates of ranked-choice voting, which is also known as an instant runoff election, view it as an election alternative that could help improve voting participation because it offers a better possibility for lesser-known candidates to be considered. In Utah elections to date, winners are determined by most votes received, even if an individual doesn't receive more than half of the votes in an election.
In ranked-choice voting, all of the candidates are placed on a ballot. Instead of selecting one candidate, the ballot instructs voters to rank their candidates from first to last. If everyone's top candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, that candidate wins; otherwise, it goes through a process of elimination in the counting process until one candidate has over 50%.
The state's ranked-choice pilot program first launched in 2019 and is slated to continue only for municipal elections through 2025 while the state gathers data before it could possibly be expanded for state or federal elections in Utah. That's something that hasn't actively been discussed by Utah's elections office and would have to be approved by the state legislature, said Shelly Jackson, Utah's deputy elections director.
It has received positive feedback from its very limited use so far. For example, Utah County officials said last year that they surveyed Payson and Vineyard voters after the 2019 election; of the 10% that responded back, more than four-fifths said they favored ranked-choice voting over the previous method.
But again, it's a very small sample size. That's why this November is shaping up to be the pilot program's biggest test yet with a mix of towns with populations estimated at less than 1,000 like Goshen and Newton, as well as the state's largest municipality, Salt Lake City.
Jackson said that expansion "excites" the state elections officials, who view the list of municipalities as not just providing a wider variety of population size but also regions in the state. They plan to find a group or university to partner with and gather survey data after this year's municipal elections conclude, so they can figure out what voters liked and didn't like about the experience.
"We'd like to collect a lot of data and just see what exactly the voters' pros and cons were and be able to evaluate it," she said.
Meanwhile, primary elections for municipalities will be held Aug. 10 statewide for municipalities outside of the program.
State elections officials said county clerks will begin to mail out ballots to registered voters around the week of July 20, although it may be mailed sooner for residents in San Juan County. All Utah residents have until July 30 to register to vote for primary elections unless a resident registers to vote during early voting or at a polling site on the date of the primary election.