What is Ranked Choice Voting and why does it matter?

In 2018 the Utah State Legislature passed HB 35 nearly unanimously to create a Ranked Choice Voting pilot program for Utah municipalities. Ranked Choice Voting has now been adopted in nineteen cities around the country, including 2 right here in Utah, to improve elections. This year, both the Republican and Demoratic parties successfully used ranked choice voting in their nominating conventions to select party candidates for the upcoming Primary Elections.

But what is Ranked Choice Voting and why does it matter?

Ranked choice voting is a nonpartisan electoral reform that gives voters the freedom to rank candidates in order of choice. Instead of choosing ONE candidate, ranked choice voting allows voters to rank all candidates according to their preference (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.). In each round of ranked choice voting, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated. When a voter’s number one choice is eliminated, their second choice is included in the count for the second round. This process continues until the final round. Ranked choice voting is shown to:

#1 HIGHER VOTER TURNOUT

Typical municipal elections in Utah only receive around a 10 to 20 percent voter turnout, meaning election outcomes may not accurately portray the wishes of residents. RCV encourages people to vote by:

  • Consolidating primary and general elections into one single election so voters only have to show up once

  • Holding these single elections in November when turnout is highest

  • Giving voters a greater voice in elections by giving them the ability to rank multiple candidates instead of only choosing one

  • Encouraging candidates to connect with a wider span of the voting community to court second or third priority votes

  • Reducing voter errors that lead to invalidated ballots, such as undervotes and overvotes

FACT: In 24 recent RCV elections, 86.8% of ballots were counted in the final round of the election — meaning RCV election winners represent a higher percentage of voters.

#2 GREATER CIVILITY IN ELECTIONS

Partisan politics is a top ten issue for Utah residents, with negative candidate campaigning exacerbating partisan fighting and voters fighting for candidates in an all or nothing fight. RCV creates more civil elections by:

  • Incentivizing candidates to reach out to all voters — including supporters of their opponents — to garner second and third priority votes

  • Encouraging candidates to support other candidates as a second choice

  • Reducing negative political campaigning and increasing civility between candidates

  • Encouraging candidates to focus on the issues rather than mud-slinging

  • Eliminates the “spoiler effect” for candidates with similar views to others who may split the vote

FACT: Studies show that voters perceive less negativity and criticism in RCV campaigns and less negativity in RCV elections over traditional elections.

#3 REDUCED COST OF ELECTIONS

Our country will protect democracy at any cost, but that does not mean voting has to cost us more than it has to! When we hold separate primary and general elections, taxpayers pay the price. RCV can save millions for taxpayers by

  • Condensing a two-election method into one single election with instant runoffs

  • Reduces campaign costs by allowing candidates to focus on a single election

FACT: L.A. County saved 4 million dollars in a RCV election by holding only one election.

Has Utah used RCV Before? Yes! RCV was used during the 2004 GOP convention, as well as to fill an open seat in the Senate in 2009. In both instances election costs were reduced, and there was a more satisfied and civil voter community. In 2019, Payson and Vineyard employed ranked choice voting in municipal elections and in 2020 both the Utah Republican and Democratic parties used RCV to conduct nominating convention votes. Continuing to establish RCV in municipalities in Utah can support the benefits of RCV statewide.

Who is using Ranked Choice Voting? In 2017 alone, 18 Republican state legislators across nine states sponsored legislation that would have implemented ranked choice voting. Cities looking to reduce election costs, minimize spoiler voting and increase civility and engagement in electoral campaigns have found many of the answers they are looking for by implementing ranked choice voting. Currently 19 U.S. cities are using RCV, with 5 more slated to begin implementation in 2020 and 2021. Find other states and organizations using RCV here.

Watch this brief video to learn why advocates in Utah are pushing to see more ranked-choice voting to improve elections in our state:

Learn more about Ranked Choice Voting at FairVote.org.

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