Ranked-Choice Voting

I am a vocal and unabashed supporter of ranked-choice voting.

Are you familiar with this voting mechanism? If not, then let me introduce it to you.

If you’re like me, you feel that elected officials too often better represent lobbyists and special interests than YOU as their constituents.

To put it simply, that is bad. It shouldn’t be that way.

Let me suggest that ranked-choice voting is perhaps one of the strongest possible reforms that we could enact that would change this current, unfortunate reality in the way our government works.

How is that?

Ranked-choice voting can be used when three or more candidates are running for the same office.

Voters then have the chance to select their FIRST choice, as well as a SECOND choice, or even more if a large number of candidates are running.

Candidates can vote for as many, or as few choices as they want.

Sometimes, ranked-choice voting is called preferential voting, or instant-run-off voting. The goal is to identify the candidate that is most ACCEPTABLE to the most possible voters. To win, a candidate must show that they are an acceptable option of at least 50%+1 of the voters (a majority) and not just more than the others (a plurality).

This would have been very useful here in Utah during the Republican primary elections just last month. In the governor’s race, the 1st district congressional race, and the 4th district congressional race, there were FOUR candidates on the ballot for each race!

NONE of the winners received a majority of the support of voters. They each won with just a plurality of votes.

In the governor’s race, Spencer Cox won just over 36% of the vote. This means that a majority, or a whopping 64% of the voters, selected another candidate.

In the 1st congressional district it was even more of a sharp contrast. The winner, Blake Moore, received just under 31% of the votes, compared to more than 69% who voted for the other three candidates.

Burgess Owens won with a larger plurality in the 4th district race – over 43%. Still, that means that the majority, almost 57% of primary voters, selected someone else.

Now, I am not saying that under ranked-choice voting these same candidates would not have still won. There is a good chance they would have won, and ranked-choice voting would have only solidified their wins. That is fine. But there is no way to know this in the traditional select-only-one-candidate voting environment.

So, how would this work? Let’s use the recent governor’s race as an example. Please note that these are all hypothetical guesses as to where the vote would turn out.

We’ll start with the actual results. Rounding to the nearest whole number, here is how the race ended up:

Spencer Cox – 36%
Jon Huntsman – 35%
Greg Hughes – 21%
Thomas Wright – 8%

So, if this were conducted as a ranked-choice voting exercise, voters would have the opportunity to vote for not only their favorite candidate, but also their 2nd favorite, as well as their 3rd favorite candidate.

Since no one candidate passed 50%, the last-place candidate would be eliminated. Those voters who in this case chose Thomas Wright would now be able to have their vote count for their second-place choice.

Let’s say that it was divided fairly equally. One quarter of these voters chose Cox as their second choice, one quarter chose Huntsman, and one quarter chose Wright. The remaining quarter did not choose a second pick. 8% divided by four is 2%.

Now, the results look like this:

Cox – 38%
Huntsman – 37%
Hughes – 23%

Okay, not a lot of change, and still nobody passes 50% of the vote. So, we move to the next stage.

In this case, Hughes is now eliminated. The 23% of the vote is divided based on how many selected Cox, and how many selected Huntsman as their next choice.

Let’s pretend that 12% selected Cox as their next choice. 8% selected Huntsman as their next choice. And let’s say that the remaining 3% didn’t choose another candidate.

So, now we have the final results:

Cox – 50%
Huntsman – 45%

Now, this is a very close election. If more of Hughes and Wright voters preferred Huntsman to Cox, this could easily have swung the other way. Similarly, if more of those voters preferred Cox to Huntsman, Cox would have won by an even higher margin.

Because of this year’s close elections, in which three major Republican races were decided by much less than a majority of voters, two Utah State Legislators have proposed a bill to use ranked-choice voting for all primary elections in Utah.

Ranked-choice voting is not completely new in Utah. Cities have had the option to use it for municipal elections, which are non-partisan. Last year, Vineyard and Payson became the first two cities to use ranked-choice voting, and the voters reported very positive reviews with the experience.

Also, this year, the Republicans and the Democrats used ranked-choice voting among their delegates for voting at their convention for the first time, in large part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which made large, long, in-person voting efforts a bad idea. Most delegates reported that they loved the experience, if nothing else because it is much faster and more efficient than the old process of holding multiple votes every time a candidate is eliminated. 

The United Utah Party has always used ranked-choice voting in their conventions since the party was formed.

So, this bill to push for ranked-choice voting is a great step, but why stop at primary elections? Why not just use it for the general election as well? Why not make it the standard for ALL Utah elections?

This is important because there are often elections with more than two candidates on the ballot. 

In this year’s election, you will see more than two candidates on the ballot in the presidential election, three of four congressional elections, the governor’s race, races for our state attorney general, auditor, and treasurer, and in 19 different state legislature races. That means that every voter would have at least five and as many as seven races on the ballot in which they could use ranked-choice voting in the general election.

What’s holding us back?

Think about it this way – how many times have you been a voter, and felt like BOTH major party candidates were less than desirable. Even if there was a third-party candidate on the ballot that you liked more, did you feel pressure to vote for one of the major party candidates to stop the other one from winning? In other words, did you hold your nose and vote for what you saw as the lesser of two evils?

If so, then wouldn’t it be nice if you could really vote your conscience, and not worry about being called a spoiler, or accidentally splitting the vote and accidentally helping a really terrible candidate get elected?

Ranked-choice voting solves this problem. With ranked-choice voting, you can freely vote for the candidate you feel is best, without worrying that the vote will be split and a worse candidate will win.

Another great side effect of ranked-choice voting is that it changes the entire tone of elections. Right now, candidates focus on riling up their base voters. This leads to a lot of negative campaigning, mudslinging, and accepting support and making promises to special interest groups.

However, in a ranked-choice voting election, candidates now realize that they might only be able to win by not just getting the most voters to select them as their 1st choice, but also being acceptable enough to other voters to choose them as a 2nd choice too.

In races with ranked-choice voting, it has been demonstrated that there is far less divisive rhetoric or negative campaigning. Candidates tend to reach out to a larger portion of the voters, rather than just focusing on a narrow base of more extreme voices.

So, what are we waiting for? Maine already became the first U.S. state to use ranked-choice voting for all elections in 2018. Let’s make Utah the second state to do so.

If I’m elected, I’ll be pushing for ranked-choice voting in a big way. When the bill comes up in the 2021 session, I’ll do everything in my power to get it expanded to all elections in the state.

In addition, right now the United Utah Party is circulating a petition to urge our legislature to make ranked-choice voting the state norm. If you would like to sign this survey, please find it here:

https://www.unitedutah.org/ranked_choice_voting_for_all

If we want to change the broken system, we are going to need to push some major reforms. Ranked-choice voting is one of them.

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