Provo voters will not be a part of the state’s pilot program for ranked-choice voting.
During Tuesday’s Municipal Council work session, the council voted 5-2 against the pilot option this election season. Councilmembers David Harding and George Handley were the two in favor of the pilot program participation.
Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank candidates they prefer from first to last. If no candidate gets more than half of the first-place votes, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated and their votes go to the voter’s second choice. The process recycles until a candidate has the majority of votes.
The cities and towns that have opted in to this year’s pilot program include Lehi, Springville, Woodland Hills, Goshen, Genola, Payson and Vineyard. They are among more than a dozen cities throughout Utah — including Salt Lake City, Draper and Sandy — that have opted into the program this year.
During the last voting cycle, Vineyard and Payson joined as the only two cities in the state to try the alternative voting method. Both cities had favorable reactions and are all in for this election cycle as well.
While most councilmembers noted there are good things about ranked-choice voting, they also didn’t feel the timing was right for Provo. They want to see more cities’ reactions and some that may be closer in size to Provo.
Provo voters will be voting for three council seats and the mayor this year. So far, only incumbent Mayor Michelle Kaufusi has announced her intent to run again. Councilman David Sewell, who holds the Citywide 1 seat, has announced he will not be seeking another term.
The council has discussed ranked-choice voting on several occasions and recently asked for an Open Town Hall survey on the subject.
Cliff Strachan, executive director of the council, has some information on the completed survey.
Strachan noted that about 400 people had taken the survey or commented on it with 154 of those being registered to answer citywide surveys on the website.
“That equals about nine hours of public comment,” Strachan said. “It was very apparent that most had heard about it (ranked-choice voting).”
Of the 154 counted, 98% voted in the past presidential election. Residents showed considerable support for ranked-choice voting.
Before the council could discuss much, Harding moved that the city participate during the primary elections, but at that moment did not receive a second on the motion.
Harding noted there was pretty broad community support of participating in the program.
“Arguments have been made that it’s a superior method,” Harding said. He noted that trends are showing that it’s a great thing and will eventually be used by cities, states and ultimately in national elections.
Handley wanted to make sure the ranked-choice voting would only be in the primaries. The decision had to be made Tuesday.
After more discussion on the right timing for entering the pilot program, Handley seconded Harding’s motion.
Councilman Bill Fillmore said he was intrigued with the benefits of this kind of voting.
“In last year’s republican party primary, the winning candidate prevailed by receiving votes from only approximately 29% of those who cared to vote in the primary, which, in a Republican-dominated state, means that those 29% of Republican primary voters elected the state’s next governor,” Fillmore said.
“I want to see results from other cities,” Fillmore said. Fillmore was not ready to be a part of the pilot program.
“I like the idea in partisan elections,” said Councilwoman Shannon Ellsworth. “General, it doesn’t sound like a good fit for Provo.”
For example, considering this year’s non-partisan municipal races, ranked-choice voting would need at least three or more candidates in a district to run for the method to even work. Sadly, many candidates run unopposed.
When the council asked the mayor for her opinion on ranked-choice voting, she deferred to her chief administrative officer, Wayne Parker, as she is a candidate and didn’t want to speak to it one way or the other.
Parker said the general concerns from the administration focus on the fact there have been many changes recently in voting, such as going from voting at the voting booth to mail-in ballots.
“We don’t want voter distrust,” Parker said. “I really want to believe every voter is informed, but I think people would be surprised if they got a ballot with ranked-choice voting.”
Councilman David Shipley said his concerns have been echoed by other members of the council.
“I sense there is momentum in the state for this, but I don’t see the need to push it,” Shipley said. “I don’t feel a need to push it forward.”
Councilman Travis Hoban said he was supportive of ranked-choice voting and had used it on several occasions as a GOP delegate, but he wasn’t sure if this primary was right for it.
“I’m not sure about the timing. It may not be the right time and I want wider feedback,” Hoban said.
Council chairman Dave Sewell said learning about ranked-choice voting has been a mixed journey.
“I’m leaning toward not supporting it this time,” Sewell said. “I was introduced to star voting. There may be better methods coming. I prefer to wait.”
Harding noted the state has made the pilot program and wants cities to try it out before it becomes permanent.
“Provo could help shape the voting of the future,” Harding said. “It’s a good time to be a part of the conversation.”
While voters in Provo wait for another voting cycle, they are being encouraged to study the various voting methods being introduced including ranked-choice voting, which could be the way voting happens in the not too distant future.