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Guest Opinion: Ranked Choice Voting proved common-sense method for Vineyard

By Julie Fullmer vineyard Mayor - | Mar 5, 2021

Utah’s legislature is considering making it possible for more cities to enact a common-sense voting alternative to assist voters: ranked choice voting (RCV).

Legislation to strengthen the state’s RCV pilot program for cities has already passed the House. HB 75 would require county clerks to use tools they already have to run ranked choice voting for any city that seeks to do so. The opportunity to participate in rank-choice voting through a well-run county system has been beneficial to Vineyard. Extending this opportunity out to Utah cities that can participate in those benefits would serve the greater community.

As the mayor of Vineyard, I can endorse the well-run rank-choice voting pilot in Utah County that our terrific county clerk and elections team implemented. Vineyard was one of two Utah County cities to participate in ranked choice voting in 2019. Vineyard’s voters — and our city council candidates — enjoyed the stronger voice that ranked choice voting provides at the ballot box. The data collected and exhibited innately by how rank-choice voting occurs, better displayed what the voting body expected to see in their representatives.

Furthermore, voter education and application of the pilot were cost-effective for Vineyard. The ability to fold the August primary into the November election was efficient and halved the city’s operational costs.

Seven candidates sought two council seats in Vineyard’s 2019 elections. Vineyard would have held a citywide primary in August under the prior voting format, with the top four candidates moving onto the November ballot. However, because ranked choice voting functions like an instant runoff, Vineyard held one election — saving tax dollars typically and unnecessarily spent during the summer primary. The change presented a shorter campaign season, which also created more affordable candidate campaigns. It empowered residents to ask more questions and invited candidates better prepared to answer them. It pressed fair play among candidates and encouraged more civility between neighbors. Individual voters and candidates both discovered they enjoyed the method, found it easy to use, and requested the form for future elections.

Vineyard, along with Payson, the other Utah city in the pilot program, surveyed voters after the election — and 86 percent of voters surveyed agreed that ranked choice voting was simple. An overwhelming majority of voters embraced ranking candidates. Almost 92 percent of all voters ranked more than one. Nearly 60 percent ranked all seven, showing they had an opinion about everyone running. Everyone in the survey liked the choice.

When the option first became available, residents approached the city, making a case for this change. Together with my colleagues on the council and our city officials, Vineyard examined RCV carefully over several months. We met with experts on the subject and ran simulations. We weighed arguments on all sides. We looked into the growing number of states and localities using it nationwide and evaluated the stories with our city in mind. What we learned convinced us: ranked choice voting is a nonpartisan success story that works and would be cost-effective, efficient, and better serve our community.

The data speaks for itself. Vineyard’s success with rank-choice voting provides germane data from the 2019 election, which, when studied, can help determine the benefits of the RCV pilot.

Some county clerks are arguing that ranked choice voting is unnecessary or difficult to administer. I would say that every county should provide more fiscally responsible alternatives, which encourage civility and have been proven in nearby counties to be achieved effortlessly.

Utah County’s Clerk readily partnered with cities on behalf of their voters. Utah’s current machines are reported to be equipped for ranked-choice elections, and this understanding of machinery is why HB0075 places the onus on counties. The voters made a choice selection with RCV — numbers from ranked choice voting in 2019 were the first election results presented, showing no difference in difficulty. Only six ballots, a fraction of a percent — needed to be discarded because of voter error.

More than 86 percent of Vineyard voters, in the joint survey, agreed that RCV should be used again. And more than 87 percent of the candidates surveyed had a positive impression of ranked choice voting after the campaign. Survey numbers like these are difficult to come by. Both Vineyard and Payson have already committed to using ranked choice voting again this fall. Several more cities want to utilize the county service. This legislation would ensure they can take action if they find Rank Choice Voting is beneficial to their communities.

Ranked choice voting was a common-sense voting method for Vineyard. Removal of expensive low-turnout primaries encouraged more positive campaigns, saved money, provided better data, and gave our voters more meaningful choices. Ranked choice voting was “better, faster and cheaper,” which is what the government should provide.

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