Voters have an opportunity to fix a flaw in our election system. However, city councils must choose to allow it.
Ranked-choice voting (RCV) is a simple and effective way to ensure that every elected official is chosen by a majority of voters. In traditional, single-choice primaries, candidates can win with only a minority of votes cast. This means that many of our representatives get into office with minority support. That is not democratic.
RCV provides a better alternative to traditional elections by allowing voters to rank all the candidates on the ballot. If no candidate has a majority of votes, an “instant runoff” is triggered, candidates with the least support are eliminated and the votes redistributed. This process continues until a candidate has a majority of votes.
In Utah, 23 cities used RCV successfully in 2021, saving taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and avoiding the need for a second election. Most voters were very satisfied with RCV, and 83% supported continuing to use it. The success of RCV is not surprising. It is a cost-effective and efficient way to elect candidates while ensuring the person elected is always the candidate preferred by a majority of voters.
One of the benefits of RCV is that it eliminates the need for both a primary and general election, which can be costly and time-consuming. Instead, RCV’s “instant runoff” elects a majority winner even in a crowded contest.
RCV also increases voter turnout because voters can choose their true favorite. By ranking backup choices, It minimizes any spoiler effect from marginal candidates. RCV gives voters renewed power over their ballot. They can vote for the candidate they really want instead of just a front runner they think can get a plurality in the primary.
RCV also rewards the behavior we want to see in candidates and campaigns to run positive campaigns. Instead of disparaging opponents and depending on a narrow base of support, candidates build broad coalitions.
Critics of RCV argue that it is more costly than traditional elections, but there is no evidence to support this claim. Opponents often use a word salad to explain their opposition, but the facts speak for themselves – RCV is a cost-effective and efficient way to elect candidates while ensuring that the person elected is always the candidate preferred by a majority of voters.
Utah cities have the opportunity to opt-in to RCV by May 1, and they should take advantage of this opportunity. RCV is a common-sense solution which increases voter turnout, rewards positive campaigns and coalition-building, and saves taxpayers money. It is time for Utah cities to join other cities that have already successfully implemented RCV. It is the solution that ensures that each voter’s voice is heard and represented.
Utah cities should opt-in to RCV and continue to build on the success of Utah’s pilot program. If you want more choice and more voice in your local elections, contact your city council and let them know you support RCV. It is time for Utah to embrace RCV and ensure that every elected official is chosen by a majority of voters.
Howard Stephenson served in the Utah state Senate for 26 years.
Katharine Biele is president of the League of Women Voters of Utah.