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Guest: It’s time to change the way we vote

By Staff | Oct 14, 2021

Cambria Cantrell

There were two openings on the Cedar Hills City Council. Laura Ellison was definitely my first choice. She was a current member of the council and had strong qualifications.

After that, though, I was stuck. There were four other people to choose from — and both Alexandra McEwen and Tyler Brocious seemed like good candidates to me. I couldn’t decide which one would get my remaining vote.

If my city had ranked choice voting, I wouldn’t have had to. I could have supported both of them.

It’s time for my hometown of Cedar Hills — and every city in Utah — to adopt ranked choice voting.

That’s what the city of Payson did in 2019. That year it was one of two cities in Utah to use ranked choice voting for the first time. Today, there are 23 Utah cities using ranked choice voting for local elections — still just about 10% of the cities in our state.

The Payson election was telling. From 2015 to 2019 voter turnout increased from 21.9% to 35.7%, according to data from Utah Ranked Choice Voting, a non-profit with the goal of improving Utah elections.

Many people have a hard time choosing just one candidate, or they worry that if they vote for a less popular candidate they will end up helping one that they don’t favor. With ranked choice voting, though, a voter decides which candidate they prefer first, then second, then third, and so on, making it possible for them to vote for every candidate they favor.

It also ends the frustration that many feel about the contention that exists within elections — because candidates don’t have to fight for people’s vote. There is real value in being the “next best option.”

That may prevent candidates from “slamming” one another. Being able to rank more than one candidate encourages candidates to be more cordial with one another, according to Kim Holindrake, the Payson city recorder. She has observed that when a resident says they favor one candidate, the other contenders don’t have to criticize that candidate and can instead ask to be someone’s next vote.

The other city to implement the change in 2019 was Vinyard. Initially, as a voter, Nef Pacheco was confused about how ranked choice voting worked. After becoming more informed on ranked choice, he is in favor of it.

Now as a candidate for the Vineyard City Council, Pacheco said, “Using ranked choice voting in local elections makes it less of a popularity contest.”

It also ends vote splitting, which occurs when two similar candidates are running against a third unique candidate and the two similar candidates split the vote causing the third candidate to win.

That would have helped me as I was making my choice in the last election in Cedar Hills. I ended up voting for McEwan, partially because I was nervous that a vote for Brocious would cause vote splitting and a candidate that I strongly disfavored would be elected. With ranked choice voting people can rank every candidate they like without this concern.

“I actually really liked being able to vote for multiple candidates,” said Mardi Sifuentes, a Vineyard City Council candidate.

Others apparently did, too. In Vineyard and Payson, more than 90% of voters ranked more than one candidate on their ballot.

Everyone could use a more civilized election process. Ranked choice voting is the answer to so many of the frustrations that exist within elections — and there is no better place to start than local elections.

Cambria Cantrell is a junior at Utah State University majoring in political science with a minor in journalism.

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