Skip to main content

Murray Journal

Switching to ranked-choice voting pitched to Murray City Council

May 12, 2021 11:48AM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Casting ballots will look differently if ranked-choice voting is adopted. (Photo courtesy Salt Lake County Clerk)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Fatigue from the previous election may not have worn off, and now Murray voters may experience a whole new way of voting. Proponents for ranked-choice voting (RCV) pitched the Murray City Council on April 6, the second time in two years, about switching over from the traditional way of casting ballots.

Previously, the City Council rejected the notion simply because the Salt Lake County Clerk, like most county clerks in Utah, was not equipped to handle RCV. Proponents of RCV pushed county clerks to make the county elections adaptable to that method of voting.

With ranked-choice voting, sometimes referred to as instant-runoff voting, voters mark their ballots for their first choice and indicate their second and third choice—and perhaps a fourth and fifth, depending upon how the system is configured. If one candidate has an absolute majority (over 50%), they are declared the winner. If not, then the last-place candidate is eliminated, and votes redistributed to a voter’s next choice until a candidate has an absolute majority over 50%.

Stan Lockhart, former chair of the Utah Republican Party and leader of UtahRCV, addressed the City Council Committee of the Whole meeting on April 6 to re-pitch RCV. 

“Some of the strengths in ranked-choice voting is that it’s going to save you money,” Lockhart said. “The way to save money is to only have a general election. You save half the cost that you’re spending on elections by just going to a general election, and because you have such a small number of voters come to come vote in primaries. It really does allow the majority of voters to make the decision on who their elected officials are.

“It also provides a shorter, less expensive city campaign, so not only is it less expensive for the city, but it’s less expensive for the candidates as well.”

Opponents to RCV argue that it complicates ballot counting. Rather than simply adding up the number of votes awarded per candidate and declaring the largest-vote getter the winner, counting RCV votes is more complex and prone to error or manipulation in tallying the vote.

City Councilor Dale Cox said, “With all the confusion and anxiety over the last election, I’m not sure this is the right time to change the voting process. But I think it’s worth exploring for the future.”

While proponents argue that primary elections are expensive to run, and they generally attract low voter turnout and should confine voting to a general election, opponents say that the vetting time between the primary and general election is needed for the electorate to acquaint themselves more with the candidates.

The deadline for a city to decide if they will do RSV this election cycle is May 10. 

“I think there are some positives such as not having a primary, however, we have been given very little time to make our decision, and my concern is that we have not had enough time to do our due diligence. I do find the concept intriguing and will do more research into the impact it has had on other cities,” City Councilor Diane Turner said.

Currently, the Utah State Legislature allowed cities in 2018 to try RSV as a “pilot program.” Two towns, Vineyard and Payson, have carried out RSV elections. There are numerous RSV methodologies, but Utah’s test pilot system has received criticism from political scientists.

Jack Santucci of Drexel University and Benjamin Reilly of the University of Western Australia wrote on the United States Politics and Policy website that Utah’s version might be harmful to minorities (ideological, partisan, racial, gender, etc.). As votes under this system can “cascade” downward from the first winner to others from the same party or group, they write that “block-preferential” voting could lead to unfair outcomes if adopted more widely.

“With only two small cities that have used ranked-choice voting in the state of Utah, I’d like to have more information on it and hear from our constituents and listen to their views first,” City Councilor Brett Hales said.

City Councilor Kat Martinez said, “I am a proponent of ranked-choice voting. I truly believe it makes residents’ voices and votes most clearly heard and respected. The winner in RCV elections receives the majority of the votes. The ranking system motivates candidates to keep their messaging positive, as they don’t want to alienate voters by insulting their favorite candidate. My primary concern regarding adopting ranked-choice voting as a part of this pilot program is the quick timeline. But I think the funding available to aid in educating the public on RCV is a worthwhile incentive to pursue.”

City Councilor Rosalba Dominguez did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

At the April 20 City Council meeting, the council addressed adopting RSV, but most of the council felt more time was needed to study the process. The resolution to adopt was not seconded and was not furthered on to a vote.