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Low turnout for Tuesday’s election; Lehi first city to use ranked-choice voting in primary

By Nichole Whiteley and Carlene Coombs - | Sep 6, 2023

Nichole Whiteley, Daily Herald

A voter places her ballot in the drop box located at the in-person voting center at the Utah County Health and Justice Building in Provo on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023.

Utah County saw low voter turnout, used ranked-choice voting for the first time in a primary and experimented with a new way to submit a mail-in ballot during Tuesday’s municipal election.

This was the first election for current Utah County Clerk Aaron Davidson since he took office in January, and he said he thought the election went well but was “disappointed” by low voter turnout.

The unofficial voter turnout as of Wednesday evening was 17% compared to 23.6% in the 2021 primary and 24% in 2019 primary.

“We were kind of expecting at least in the 20s, hopefully the 30s,” Davidson said.

Davidson noted Lehi had a particularly low turnout at about 10% and Eagle Mountain only had 9%. Orem had the highest turnout at 23%.

Davidson said “overall it (the election) ran really smoothly.” He explained the only issue during this election arose when the elections coordinator quit two weeks before the primaries, with her last day being one week before election day. Her job is to ensure all necessary supplies are delivered to each voting center. With no immediate replacement, some election material deliveries were delayed, he said.

“It didn’t prevent or cause anything that prevented the well-running of the election,” Davison said.

Ranked-choice voting

This primary, Lehi participated in ranked-choice voting, the first city to do so outside of the general election, according to Davidson.

Ranked-choice voting, also referred to as instant runoff voting, allows voters to rank candidates from their first to last choices.

In Utah, ranked-choice voting in a municipal primary election is somewhat different than in the general election due to Utah’s election code.

In a primary, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, with votes then being reallocated based on how voters ranked the candidates. Multiple rounds of elimination occur until there are just twice the number of candidates as seats to be filled. In Lehi’s case, nine City Council candidates out of 15 were eliminated, with six candidates to compete for three open City Council seats in November.

Davidson expressed concern about this process, saying in some cases, it could lead to voters’ lower choices not being considered if their first choice was a winning candidate.

“​​So anyone that voted in their first round for any of the top six, their second or third rankings are never even considered,” he said, using Lehi’s primary as an example.

In the general election, if there are multiple seats, like in many city council elections, the whole process is run until one candidate receives a majority of the vote. That candidate then wins the first seat and the process is run again, but without the winning candidate’s name. It then continues until all seats are filled.

This varies from the primary, where the process only runs until there are twice the number of candidates as open seats.

Lehi will do ranked-choice voting in the November election along with Vineyard, Payson, Genola and Woodland Hills.


This was the first year of doing the Bring Your Own Ballot pilot program, which will continue for the general election. A voter could bring in their pre-completed ballot to a voting center, show their ID and turn in their ballot in a special machine instead of mailing it in or using a drop box.

Davidson said not many people utilized the BYOB program, but those who did expressed their gratitude for the option, according to feedback from poll workers. “They (voters) really wanted to bring their ballot in person; they wanted to show their ID and see that it was counted.”

In previous years, if someone brought in a ballot that was mailed to them, they would have to fill out a new ballot at the voting center or place it in a drop box. This new program gives voters the option to see their ballot is counted, experience voting in person and have the privacy of their home to fill out the ballot beforehand, Davidson said.

Davidson added that the wording on the instructions mailed out with the ballots caused some confusion, with voters thinking the two voting centers offering BYOB — the American Fork Library and the Utah County Health and Justice Building — were the only voting centers open for in-person voting.

However, there were six in-person voting centers, with those two being the only ones participating in the BYOB program. For the November general election, Davidson said the BYOB program will be offered at all of the voting centers, and the instructions sent out with the ballots will be updated for clarity.

Update on votes

Updated results Wednesday evening show Gary Garrett and McKay Jensen still leading in the Citywide II race for Provo City Council. Garrett has received 2,811 votes on ballots counted so far, or 39.59% of the total, and Jensen received 1,845 votes, or 25.99%.

Other candidates and their vote totals so far are Tanner Bennett with 1,131 votes (15.93%), Wendy Ahlman with 866 (12.20%), Joseph Penrose with 327 (4.61%) and Nathan Smith Jones with 120 (1.69%).

The top vote-getters for Orem City Council’s primary election did not change. The newest number of votes, as of Wednesday evening, are:

  • Jeffrey K. Lambson – 5,984, 19.79%.
  • Jenn Gale – 5,460, 18.06%.
  • Chris Killpack – 5,432, 17.97%.
  • Crystal Muhlestein – 3,549, 11.74%.
  • Matt McKell – 3,237, 10.71%.
  • Spencer Rands – 2,855, 9.44%.

Among other Utah County cities holding primary elections this year, only Spanish Fork’s city council race saw a shake-up from Tuesday night’s initial results. The latest figures showed Jesse Cardon overtaking Matt Barber for third place, though both will still advance.

Ballots for the Nov. 21 general election will be sent out on Oct. 30.


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