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Draper Journal

Draper’s November election will be Ranked Choice Voting run by Utah County

Apr 12, 2021 09:39AM ● By Mimi Darley Dutton

Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said her office wasn’t equipped to run Ranked Choice Voting elections, but the county is getting certified equipment capable of doing that form of election and will now offer it to cities. (Courtesy Salt Lake County Elections)

By Mimi Darley Dutton | [email protected]

Draper’s election in November will be entirely different from past city elections. There will be no primary, voters will get to try Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), and the election will be conducted by Utah County. There’s also a possibility that people could vote via their phone. 

The Draper City Council was introduced to RCV in October by Stan Lockhart, former chairman of the Utah Republican Party and interim President/CEO of the Utah Valley Chamber. He told the council that republicans have used it for caucuses and that the towns of Payson and Vineyard have already run successful RCV elections. Lockhart said Amelia Powers Gardner, Utah County clerk, calls RCV “better, faster, cheaper” because the city can conduct just one election rather than a primary followed by a general election.  

RCV is just as it sounds. All the candidates who file by the deadline are listed on the ballot and each voter ranks them in preference from first to last. Those statistics are analyzed resulting in the person or people with the highest percentage of votes deemed the winner(s). 

It’s said to reduce voter fatigue with a shorter campaign season and just one election, to be less expensive for the candidates, and to promote more collegial campaigning. “You may not be someone’s first choice, but you’d like to be their second choice, so much less negative campaigning occurs,” Draper Mayor Troy Walker said. “The council voted about two months ago to proceed with a Ranked Choice Voting election. That’s what they’ve directed the City Recorder to do.”

According to Walker, he and City Manager David Dobbins met with Gardner. “We’re using Utah County primarily because the Salt Lake County Clerk isn’t adopting Ranked Choice Voting for us. Since part of Draper is in Utah County, we have access to doing that.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Jeff Stenquist introduced H.B. 75 during the last legislative session. “I was asked to run the bill because there’s a pilot project for Ranked Choice Voting that allows cities to try it out. H.B. 75 was to make a couple changes. It wasn’t clear whose decision it was for a city to do Ranked Choice Voting, the council or the mayor. The bill declares it’s the city council’s decision to join this pilot project…the big controversy was the fact that we have county clerks in the state of Utah that refused to participate and conduct these elections. There’s one county that will do these elections and that is Utah County. The cities don’t have the equipment and personnel to run these elections on their own, so if a county clerk refuses, then the city can’t participate, even if they want to. That’s a problem that needed to be solved. I met with county clerks to understand what their hesitation is. I wanted to know if there are technical problems or logistical ones. They told me straight out they can do it but they have concerns about Ranked Choice Voting and they don’t want to do it. And I felt like that was not the role of the county clerk to decide that policy. So, I ran the bill that would require the county clerk to run the election if a city council voted to participate in a pilot project.”

Stenquist said the bill passed the house floor but got bogged down in the senate. “As a compromise, the bill was changed so that it allows a city to contract with any county in the state they want to run their election. Even though it’s not ideal, it does allow a city the flexibility to participate while at the same time it doesn’t force a county clerk to do something they don’t want to do. It’s going to be really interesting to see what cities contract outside their county to do it. Draper is in a unique position because it spans into Utah County, so they could have done that without the bill to participate.” 

The bill passed and was signed by the Governor. “It opens up a Pandora’s box of trading, a market where counties are competing with each other to conduct elections for cities. You might have a city contract with a different county based on cost as well. I didn’t run the bill because I’m convinced it’s a better way (of voting). I just want the ability for cities that want to do it to give it a try,” Stenquist said. 

Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen shared her perspective. “To clarify, our former system didn’t allow us to offer Ranked Choice Voting. We’re just in the process of getting new equipment. The new system does accommodate it. We feel confident as far as the equipment vendor we’ve chosen, Dominion. They are Election Assistance Commission certified. Their software is certified for Ranked Choice Voting which is very important. To get a certification they have to go through rigorous testing. So, we are able to offer it to the cities who have enough candidates that file…there have to be more candidates who file than the number of positions on the ballot.”

According to Swensen, H.B. 75 started out to be a requirement for county clerks to be forced to contract with cities for elections, but the version that was passed does not do that. She said municipal elections are a statutory requirement of the city recorders, not the county clerks. That requirement for county clerks to conduct elections for cities was in contrast to what’s been the case in the past, a mutual agreement between a city and a county for the county to conduct the city’s elections. 

Swensen said the bill for the pilot project of Ranked Choice Voting originally passed in 2018. “The first election after that was 2019, that’s when Payson and Vineyard did it. They were already getting new equipment.” Swensen said the version of Ranked Choice Voting that was used in Payson and Vineyard is called Blocked Preferential Voting. “It was only used…in Payson and Vineyard in 2019, not anywhere else in the world is this version of Ranked Choice Voting used,” she said. 

Swensen explained that Salt Lake County had spent money to upgrade their systems in 2013 when vote-by-mail was first tested by some cities and later adopted by all the cities in the county. “We weren’t in the urgency that other counties were to get new equipment in 2019 because Salt Lake County had updated ours in 2013 and spent money, but other counties…hadn’t done the other updates that we had. We didn’t have to move forward with a new system in 2019…because we’d done upgrades to our existing system to extend the lifetime of that equipment.”

At press time, Swensen said, “We’re offering Ranked Choice Voting and it will be up to the city councils to determine if that’s what they want to offer their voters. I didn’t refuse to offer Ranked Choice Voting, but at the time, Salt Lake County didn’t have equipment that would accommodate it. With the new system, we can now accomplish that where we couldn’t previously.”  

Draper residents will be voting on two city council positions as well as mayor this November. 

“I’m going to run for one more term, so I’ll be part of this experiment,” Walker said. “The other thing interesting about the Utah county clerk is she’s very innovative. We may be part of a pilot program and vote from a registered electronic device (phone) secured by knowing what the electronic identifier is. She wants to pilot it this next election and I told her our council would be willing.”