Seven Utah County cities have indicated so far that they plan on using ranked-choice voting in this year’s municipal elections as part of the Utah Alternative Voting Methods Pilot Project.

Those cities and towns are: Lehi, Springville, Woodland Hills, Goshen, Genola, Payson and Vineyard. They are among more than a dozen cities throughout the state, including Salt Lake City, Draper and Sandy, that have opted into the pilot project this year.

Other cities and towns have until May 10 to notify the Utah Office of Elections whether they will participate in the pilot, which ends in January 2026.

Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank candidates from first to last. If no candidate gets more than half of votes, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated and their votes go to the voter’s second choice. The process repeats until a candidate has the majority of votes.

The Utah State Legislature enacted the Alternative Voting Methods Pilot Project in 2018, allowing a municipality “to adopt instant runoff voting” in races with more than one candidate. Vineyard and Payson were the only two cities that participated in the pilot in November 2019.

Though ranked-choice voting may, at first glance, appear to be a mundane and administrative subject, the alternative voting method and its implications has led to heated and emotional debate among elected city officials.

This was perhaps most clearly demonstrated during a Lehi City Council meeting on April 13, when the city council voted 4-1 in favor of opting in to the ranked-choice voting pilot for this year’s municipal election. Additionally, in a separate motion, the city council voted 3-2 in favor of eliminating this year’s primary election.

Councilmember Katie Koivisto, who has previously expressed hesitation with implementing the alternative voting method, told her colleagues that she believed implementing ranked-choice voting and doing away with the primary would unfairly benefit incumbents, given that candidates would not be able to file to run for office until August.

“It really favors the incumbents right now,” said Koivisto. “And I just don’t feel comfortable with that.”

The discussion escalated when Koivisto referenced a conversation she had the week prior with Mayor Mark Johnson, during which she said the mayor told her he agreed that incumbents would have the upper hand.

But Johnson quickly cut Koivisto off and told the council that that’s not what he said, adding that he might have said that incumbents have more “name-recognition,” which “could probably be interpreted a number of ways.”

“That is not the way that the conversation went,” Koivisto pushed back. “I’ve been very much opposed to it (ranked-choice voting), but I put my trust in you, and I had this discussion with you. And that is not the way that the conversation went.”

The councilmember continued, “I’ve lost that trust. I don’t feel like, I don’t even know what to believe anymore with ranked-choice voting regarding Lehi City. And that’s very disappointing.”

Johnson apologized “if there was some kind of misunderstanding” in their previous conversation about ranked-choice voting.

“This is turning into a difficult issue,” the mayor said. “Elections are difficult issues.”

Other councilmembers said they supported Lehi opting in to the ranked-choice voting pilot. They noted that ranked-choice voting, unlike plurality voting, requires candidates to appeal to all voters rather than just to their base.

“You’re not affiliating with a party, you’re truly out there running as yourself,” said Councilmember Chris Condie, who noted that he was “adamantly against” ranked-choice voting two years ago before he learned more about it. “You’re not being defined by an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ or an ‘I’ or an ‘L’ or whatever, you’re just who you are … that’s why I wanted to give it a try.”

Councilmember Paige Albrecht noted that “it is scary to venture out and rely on a system that did not get you elected.”

“When those making the rules are willing to change them, I think that shows some courage and some willingness to innovate,” Albrecht said. “So I’m not necessarily in favor of it forever, but I am willing to give it a shot.”

The Salt Lake City Council and Sandy City Council both voted on Tuesday in favor of opting in to the ranked-choice voting pilot.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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