Originally Published in the Daily Herald | Local Nesws | Feb. 1, 2023
The Provo Municipal Council took time Tuesday to discuss ranked choice voting as part of the program’s statewide 6-year trial period.
This is not the first time Provo has looked at the option, having considered a switch in 2018. Michael Sanders, Provo’s political analyst presented information to the council on the alternative voting option.
While the legislature is looking at the option, municipalities are able to decide whether to opt in or out of the trial. In the first year, only Payson and Vineyard participated in RCV for municipal balloting.
Ranked choice voting is a balloting system where residents rank candidates for an office in terms of preference, rather than simply voting for one preferred candidate. Candidates with the least support are eliminated, round by round, with votes moving to the candidates marked second, third and so on by voters.
In 2021, Provo looked at the option again and the vote to participate failed in a 2-5 decision. By that time, joining 21 other cities joined Vineyard and Payson.
Utah County participants include Elk Ridge, Genola, Goshen, Lehi, Springville and Woodland Hills.
Most of the smaller cities opted in because of expected cost savings — with RCV there is no primary election. However, when Sanders checked with other city recorders, they did indicate it cost more than expected.
Council member George Handley raised the discussion Tuesday and had shown interest in the voting option in the past.
An unscientific survey on Open City Hall was conducted in 2021 with about 154 respondents.
Most respondents had heard of RCV, but had no experience using it, according to Sanders. Most people were either neutral or positive regarding election outcomes in the city and most people supported the use of RCV in Provo for the 2021 elections.
“I used to be a big proponent of ranked choice voting,” council member Travis Hoban said. “I don’t want to sound apathetic, but if it’s not broken don’t fix it.”
Council member Bill Fillmore asked what problem would be fixed by changing now. Handley answered that there had been “extreme candidates” on the ballot and turnout continues to be low. In 2021, Provo had a voter turnout rate of 33% according to the Utah County Clerk’s Office.
“I don’t see anything wrong with more candidates running,” Handley said. “Our culture is continuing to be polarized. We need to keep an eye on substantive campaigns. Ranked choice voting helps improve the percentage of people running.”
After continued discussion on the pros and cons, council member David Shipley noted that, due to an inability to reach an agreement, the city should not move forward at this time.
The council did not vote on the issue, but before moving on Handley requested keeping an eye on it for next year.
Two bills which would modify the pilot program have been introduced into the Utah Legislature, though neither has received a committee hearing. With HB 171, Rep. Katy Hall seeks to repeal the project while, with HB 176, Rep. Jeff Stenquist seeks to expand the program and add approval voting.
With approval voting, voters specify whether they approve or disapprove of each candidate for an office. If there were 10 people running for mayor, voters could “approve” of any number of candidates. The candidate with the most approval votes then wins.