Local municipalities are banking on ranked-choice voting

CACHE COUNTY – In November, 23 towns and cities in Utah will use ranked-choice voting to conduct their municipal elections.

That group includes the cities of Nibley and River Heights as well as the town of Newton here in Cache Valley.

In 2018, the Utah Legislature approved a pilot program to allow cities, towns and counties to conduct local elections using ranked-choice voting. Until now, only Utah County and the small municipalities of Payson and Vineyard had taken advantage of that option.

Now, with Salt Lake City leading the way, nearly two dozen Utah municipalities have opted for ranked-choice voting in the upcoming general election.

The immediate impact of that decision was to allow those towns and cities to avoid the administrative burden and expense of conducting primary balloting on Aug. 10.

In fact, the official deadline for candidate registrations in Newton, Nibley and River Heights was deferred until Aug. 17.

Advocates of ranked-choice voting argue that option is the most efficient and accurate way to understand the voice of the people. That voting procedure not only saves jurisdictions money by preventing costly run-off elections, they say, but also reduces negative campaigning. Moreover, ranked-choice voting is reputed to guarantee that the majority of voters will at least approve of the winner in a crowded field of candidates.

“Crowded” is certainly the best description of the fields of candidates in Newton, Nibley and River Heights.

In Newton, only two candidates have filed for the post of mayor. They are incumbent Mayor Kevin Rhodes and challenger Mike Benson.

In the race for two city council seats, however, incumbent Gordon A. Anderson is in the running along with newcomers Brett Peterson, Jake Christiansen and Reese Bartell Jenkins.

In Nibley, Mayor Shawn Dustin has chosen not to seek reelection and four hopefuls are now vying for that post. They are Larry Jacobsen, Craig J. Peterson, Matt Logan and city council member Nathan Laursen.

In the race for two seats on the Nibley City Council, incumbent Kathryn Beus is competing with Cody Christensen, Tom Davis, Norman Larsen and Norman R. Hill.

While Jason E. Thompson is running unopposed to replace Todd Rasmussen as mayor of River Heights, the race for two city council seats there is definitely crowded. Incumbent city council member Nancy Huntly is seeking reelection while newcomers David Wayne Bush, Janet Humphrey Mathews, Jerry L. Pence, Tyson Glover and Lance B. Pitcher are also in the running.

Rather than choosing a single candidate on their ballots in November, the voters in Newton, Nibley and River Heights will instead rank all candidates by preference as their first, second and third choices and so on.

When city officials begin counting ballots, they will tally the number of first-preference votes. If no candidate receives more then 50 percent of first-preference votes, the count continues to a second round.

The second and any subsequent rounds of ranked-choice vote counting functions as an instant run-off election.

In round two, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated and his or her second-preference votes are then distributed to the remaining candidates.

That process continues until one candidate secures more than 50 percent of the vote.

Many Utah election officials are still leery of ranked-choice voting, however, suggesting that it may confuse voters and require the acquisition of new technology.

But advocates of that practice insist that more widespread use of ranked-choice voting in the upcoming municipal election may serve to allay those fears.

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