Ranked Choice Voting Gets Bipartisan Support in Utah

Last week, Utah state Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck introduced legislation that would initiate ranked choice voting (RCV) in her state. According to fairvote.org, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocate for RCV, “With ranked choice voting, voters can rank as many candidates as they want in order of choice.”

This bill could potentially give voters in Utah more choice on their ballot while mandating that over 50% of the vote must be reached for a winner to be named — an actual majority.

The lack of a “true majority” being represented in various elections across the U.S. has emboldened policymakers to introduce RCV legislation in an attempt to uproot the current way local and state elections are held. Maine is the only state that has adopted RCV on a statewide basis, but several cities nationwide use the voting method at the local level.

Utah legislation, HB0349, aims to apply RCV to primary races where more than two candidates are seeking the same position or seeking a nomination from the same party for the same position. This bill was written to give a voice back to the state’s constituents by giving them a larger pool of candidates from which to choose.

Representative Chavez-Houck’s election reform measure could change the way in which the people of Utah think of elections. Ideally, this method will instill more trust in the voting system if it allows voters greater choice.

“Unaffiliated voters who are not allowed to participate in some party processes feel they don’t have a voice.” – Rep. Chavez-Houck, in an interview for IVN.

The main goal of this bill is to make sure that there is an equal opportunity for voters to make a decision at the ballot box, regardless of their party affiliation or lack thereof.

Rep. Chavez-Houck is adamant about the opportunities RCV could provide for her constituents. The advantages are bountiful in her eyes and she believes fairness in the vote can be achieved.

“The bill provides a way for voters, regardless of party affiliation, to rank all the candidates in an election, according to their preference. I have heard from a number of voters who are frustrated with party-level election processes at the national level, and they apply that perception onto local elections, too. They are looking to remedy frustrations with party leadership, but I would argue that adopting RCV might achieve fairness more effectively. And, again for unaffiliated or third party voters, RCV helps amplify their voice.” – Rep. Chavez-Houck

Rep. Chavez-Houck verified that there is broad political support in Utah for RCV; in particular, between Republicans, who have used RCV for conventions and caucuses in the past, Democrats, who use instant runoff voting for endorsement races, and the Green Party.

Even with growing support, the legislation is expected to have some hurdles.

“The biggest challenge we face is cost and the operational capacity for our local elections officials to be able to implement RCV using current equipment and processes. However, we do have legislation making its way through the session that requires the Lieutenant Governor to consider implementation of RCV as new equipment is acquired.  There are also concerns that the size of ballots for RCV absentee and vote-by-mail being very fiscally prohibitive.  I look forward to having a conversation with our local elections officials to determine how we might be able to incrementally begin to offer this option in the years to come.” – Rep. Chavez-Houck

Ranked choice voting is obviously a step in a new direction, but also undoubtedly a step in a more inclusive direction. Rep. Chavez-Houck and others like her say they want to ensure that their constituents not only have a voice, but that their voices are heard.

The future of HB0349 is in the hands of the policymakers in Utah, but we all have a say on how RCV is discussed in the future. For many states, the discussion has yet to begin, and it’s up to voters who want change to create a dialogue between themselves and their representatives.

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