Ranky Panky | News | Salt Lake City

The 2021 local elections in Salt Lake City are approaching, and Jackie Morgan is busy speaking to as many voters as possible.

In addition to promoting the candidate she campaigns for – incumbent councilor Darin Mano – Morgan said her team is keen to educate residents about the city’s new, experimental format of ranked voting.

That means traveling door-to-door with typical campaign paraphernalia, Morgan said, as well as laminated sample ballots that asked voters to practice filling in with an erasable marker.

“People naturally seem to understand when you tell them it’s happening,” Morgan said. “It’s different and it’s new, but I think Salt Lake City is well prepared to deal with it.”

This year, 23 Utah cities will use ranked voting (RCV) in their local elections as part of a pilot program established by the state legislature. In contrast to conventional winner-take-all systems, in which the candidate with the highest number of votes is awarded regardless of whether he has achieved a majority of votes, the ranking option allows conditional voting in the order of their preference, with the supporters losing candidates can be redistributed up to a clear majority. achieved.

The RCV format is celebrated by proxies and has grown in popularity across the country in recent years. And Utah lawmakers are increasingly receptive to their adoption, not just for non-partisan municipal races, but potentially for partisan primary and even national elections.

But it also runs counter to America’s deliberately decentralized elections, which complicates the process of tabulating results and clashes with other voter-friendly initiatives like postal voting.

“Applying this to a general election campaign would be just a tremendous job,” said Sherrie Swensen, Salt Lake County secretary. “That sounds good to the voters. But they don’t understand the administrative challenges we are faced with.”

Ranking list voting – also called instant runoff voting – comes in many forms and forms. Both the Republican and Democratic Parties of Utah used a version of RCV during their recent nomination conventions in the state, and proponents of the voting method say the overwhelmingly positive feedback from delegates could be key to driving the ranking voting across the state .

“Getting them tested at the convention level tests it among the die-hard grassroots for these two political groups,” said Rebecca Chavez-Houck, former Democratic MP for the state (and occasional contributor to City Weekly). “These are the people you have to convince.”

Chavez-Houck was among the earliest supporters of RCV in the state legislature, sponsoring legislation that allows cities to choose the poll pilot. She is now part of a coalition providing information and resources on ranked voting.

She said her early interest in RCV was the result of looking for ways to empower voters, who often complain about feeling their votes don’t count or their voices aren’t heard. With ranked voting, voters can be assured that their ballot will continue to play a role in determining the outcome of an election, even if their preferred candidate falls short of expectations.

“Wherever we can start breaking down barriers and finding ways to make voters feel that their votes count, I think this is a win-win situation,” she said.

The RCV dynamic also encourages positive campaigning, said Chavez-Houck, as candidates are rewarded for generating broad support, even from their opponents.

“What you are trying to do as a candidate is to encourage voters to put you in second or third place,” she said.

Morgan, with the Mano campaign, said her team is aware of this shift in strategy. In a traditional campaign, candidates may ignore voters with an obvious preference for an opponent in order to prioritize those whose support is fluid. But with RCV, Morgan said, there’s a reason to go to every single ingredient.

“Nobody is ever eliminated, and you have to take that into account in all of your campaigning tactics,” she said. “It’s important to find creative ways to reach these people for their second choice.”

Another change for this year’s election is the lack of a primary this summer where every candidate for the city council will advance to the November election. This saves tax money, but turns the traditional election calendar upside down.

“We don’t have the option to do a temperature check of the district halfway,” Morgan said. “Voters will have to do more research. They will have to spend more time examining candidates.”

For Swensen, whose office is overseeing the elections in Salt Lake County, ranking voting has made the already arduous process more complex. The ranking grid takes up more space on a ballot, and Swensen said she made a point of including detailed instructions for the new voting method as well.

Despite these additions, she said, all of the 79 different ballot designs produced for the November election – depending on where in the county a voter lives – have been successfully limited to a single, double-sided sheet.

But city elections are deliberately scheduled in years when large partisan elections are not possible. If RCV were applied to partisan races at the local or state level, Swensen said, it would likely require multi-page ballot papers, which would increase printing and postage costs, as well as the likelihood of voter error.

“It would destroy our voting email system,” she said.

Representative Mike Winder, R-West Valley, said the questions asked about the ranked poll today are similar to those asked by postal vote 20 years ago. Once voters have seen firsthand the ease of voting via email, they don’t want to go back to the old method, Winder said, expecting the RCV pilot’s outcome to be similar.

“Voting on leaderboards is like playing a new board game,” said Winder. “Sometimes it’s easier to play than to explain.”

Winder is working on legislation to expand the state’s RCV. He said it made especially sense for Utah’s party primaries, which have seen an increase in majority winners – or at least the potential for majority winners – since the passage of SB54, which allows multiple candidates to bypass nomination conventions and collect signatures, on the primary ballot.

He was referring to the 2020 gubernatorial elections – in which the then Lt. Governor Spencer Cox won the Republican primary with about a third of the vote – creating a sense of suspicion among some voters, compounded by baseless, if persistent, claims of electoral fraud surrounding this year’s presidential contest.

“I think the leaderboard selection is actually a way to tackle this problem head-on,” said Winder. “If you have a ranking selection, you have to publish every voting round. That gives the vote count a look that we don’t see today.”

Winder also recognized the challenge of counting leaderboard votes through multiple instant rounds of voting across city and county lines – which would be necessary for statewide races – but added that it wasn’t an insurmountable challenge since Utah already has state and county counties Senate elects the multiple jurisdictions.

“We see tables for multi-county races all the time today,” he said. “Ranged choice voting is a different calculation.”

Two cities – Vineyard and Payson – were the first to choose the RCV pilot in 2019. This year’s list of 23 parishes includes towns and cities both inside and outside the Wasatch Front.

Chavez-Houk said she and other proponents hope the pilot program, which is due to expire in 2026, will see wide participation unless it is extended by lawmakers.

“The bottom line is that voters feel that their voice has been heard – that their vote counted,” said RCH. “I want the largest universe of eligible voters to vote, period. I want the largest possible universe of eligible voters to have a voice who represents them. “

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