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Draper Journal

‘Better, faster, cheaper’ municipal elections?

Dec 08, 2020 03:36PM ● By Mimi Darley Dutton

Political signs posted all summer long could be a thing of the past if the Draper City Council opts for ranked choice voting, leading to a shorter election cycle from August to November rather than June to November for city elections. (Mimi Darley Dutton/City Journals)

By Mimi Darley Dutton | [email protected]

At an upcoming meeting, the Draper City Council will consider and vote on an entirely new system of “ranked choice voting” for the city’s municipal elections. 

“It’s…just for municipal elections, not statewide…those are up to the state and the county,” Mayor Troy Walker said of the proposed change. 

Stan Lockhart presented the idea of ranked choice voting to the City Council during an October business meeting. Lockhart is a former chairman of the Utah Republican Party and the current, interim President/CEO of the Utah Valley Chamber. He also leads the Lockhart Group which works on policy issues on local, county, state and federal levels. 

“Ranked choice voting is an innovation that came to Utah about 25 years ago by conservative grass roots who thought it was a better way of voting. Republicans have used it in caucuses with great success. Payson and Vineyard (the towns) used it. Amelia Powers Gardner is Utah County clerk and she coined the phrase that ranked choice voting is ‘better, faster, cheaper’…it works,” Lockhart told the council. 

Ranked choice voting is just as the name sounds. Instead of having a primary election to eliminate those who get the fewest votes, followed by a regular election with the remaining candidates on the ballot, the city would conduct just one election. Voters would rank the choices on their ballots in order of preference for city council or mayoral candidates. Those statistics would all be analyzed, resulting in the person or people with the highest percentage of votes deemed the winner(s) in just one election. 

 “If a candidate gets over 50%, they win. If no one gets over 50%, they eliminate the last place candidate and re-distribute to the person’s next choice, then they’re the winner. You keep going through that process until you get a winner or multiple winners. Until you use it, you’re skeptical. Once you use it, you like it because it’s easy on the voter,” Lockhart said. 

It’s also money-saving. It makes for shorter, less expensive campaigns. Candidates file in August rather than June, and then a single, compact election cycle runs into November rather than the traditional primary election followed by the November election. 

Walker said he’s spoken to the mayor of Vineyard and she indicated the public liked it and that it went well. He said there was less inclination for negative campaigning because everyone wanted to at least be your second choice. “I like the idea. It took me a while to warm up to it. They say it lends itself to more collegial campaigning, less acrimony. It eliminates the primary and you don’t have an entire summer of campaign signs everywhere,” he said. 

Councilmember Fred Lowry had a similar reaction. “It shortens the election period, you reduce voter fatigue, and it’s less expensive for candidates. That for me is a positive,” he said.  

Lockhart said this system also eliminates the “spoiler effect” or someone running that you think will take votes away from an opponent, and also eliminates voter split among similar candidates. “The candidates who have the broadest and deepest support are the candidates who get elected,” he told the council. “We only get the popular vote today, but sometimes a candidate gets fewer No. 1 votes and more No. 2 votes.” He indicated ranked choice voting makes the election more issue-oriented and provides “an incentive for candidates to be civil to one another…you need to reach out to all voters, not just your base.”

Draper City has outsourced their elections to Salt Lake County for years, but Lockhart said some counties are resistant to changes in elections. He stated that current Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen is “unwilling” at this point to do ranked choice voting. According to Lockhart, Draper City pays about $2.50 per voter to Salt Lake County for elections the county administers. Meanwhile, Utah County charges closer to $2, and because Draper City has residents in both Salt Lake and Utah counties, he suggested the city administer this type of election through Utah County. Another option, he said, is that if several cities are interested in ranked choice voting, those cities could form a co-op, rent election equipment, and employ an organization that would come in and run a less expensive election for each city. 

At the Nov. 10 City Council meeting, councilmember Tasha Lowery asked for ranked choice voting to be on an upcoming City Council agenda in order to move it forward for a vote. 

“You’re talking about cutting the price of elections in half. Elections take a lot of our taxpayer dollars…also a big reduction in how much a candidate spends. You’re really only campaigning from August to November so you don’t have to do so many mailers, yard signs and online advertising. It also opens the door for other people who couldn’t afford to run…they (campaigns) can be really expensive. I do feel like it would be a change for the better. Utahns in general don’t like a lot of negativity in their politics and especially in local elections. We all live here together, and when elections are over, we go back to being neighbors and friends,” Lowery said.