Utah counties weighing ranked choice voting options

Jim Spiewack :: KUTV

Ranked choice voting has been around for decades, but the idea is gaining more mainstream traction in Utah.

The Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office is expecting 700 touch screens that have ranked choice voting capability to arrive within the next few weeks. There is no plan to start using them in Salt Lake County, but the clerk’s office will start testing them.

With ranked choice, voters have the option to pick candidates in order of preference. Several cities and counties are inquiring about how effective and costly it might be to utilize.

“It really empowers the voters. It also solves the plurality issue,” said Rep. Mike Winder (R-West Valley City).

In the ranked choice voting system, if no one candidate gets more than 50%, a ranking system kicks in.

“It's a better way to not only help the voters express their will, but also to make sure as a party you have a nominee that the full majority supports,” Winder said.

Winder is the sponsor of a bill that would expand ranked choice voting to primary elections in Utah.

Legislative leadership has kept election bills on hold for now until the midway point of the session, which was Wednesday, so Winder says bills like his could start to get more attention in the days ahead.

Critics say ranked choice voting is complex and can lead to more skepticism around elections.

“I think it actually helps people feel better about voting, because it makes them feel like their vote counts in a deeper and more meaningful way,” Winder said.

Ricky Hatch is the Weber County clerk-auditor and also the chair of a group of more than two dozen clerks across the state. He questioned whether this is the time to be changing election laws.

“We're saying, 'no, I don't think so; let's study it; let’s really look at it closely,'” Hatch said.

Ranked choice could make ballots much longer and would require a learning curve — which Winder's bill has money built in for.

“The longer the ballot is, the more exhausted voters get, and they just finally stop paying attention,” Hatch said.

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