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Guest opinion: Ranked-choice voting – A better voter experience

By Marc Roberts, Lowell Nelson and Ben Smith - Special to the Daily Herald | Apr 2, 2022

The 2021 elections were a particularly exciting voting experience for residents in 23 cities and towns across Utah. From Newton to Moab, Salt Lake City and Millcreek and Lehi, voters were able to rank candidates by preference in mayoral and city council elections: first, second, third and so forth. If their first choice was eliminated due to lack of support, their vote went to their second choice in the next round, and so on, until a candidate received 50% of the vote or more.

Ranked-choice voting (RCV) is not new to Utah; the idea was first introduced way back in the 1980s. Lengthy Republican Party conventions relying on multi-round voting were cumbersome and led to outcomes that didn’t always reflect majority opinions. Different Republican factions debated a better way to vote through the 1980s and 1990s, until RCV was adopted for the 2002 and 2004 Republican nominating conventions.

It worked. At the 2002 and 2004 conventions, RCV was faster, secure and resulted in a better overall voter experience. A single paper ballot with candidates ranked by preference replaced 12-hour marathon sessions, in which delegates would have to come back and cast new ballots round after round. Before RCV, conventions often lasted for hours with multiple rounds of voting and an increasingly smaller number of delegates voting each round due to individuals leaving for various reasons, which often had the potential to skew the results.

Ranked-choice voting worked again on the county level. Several county Republican parties quietly kept using RCV after the 2002/2004 convention experiments and have been using it for nearly 20 years, among them Utah, Weber and Davis counties. It’s no surprise that we have introduced into our elections a Utah-grown solution with a history of success in our state: ranked-choice voting.

We support ranked-choice voting because it’s an overall better experience for the voter and leaves voters feeling less disenfranchised about the process and the results. With RCV, you can vote your conscience and rank each candidate by preference, without strategically voting for the “lesser of two evils” or worrying about vote splitting and so-called “spoiler” candidates. Ranked-choice voting simply cures those problems. Now you can vote for someone and not against someone.

RCV supports majority rule and representative government — not candidates winning a race with less than 50% of the vote. RCV is constitutional and protects “one-person, one vote” — though your one vote may end up counting for your second or third preference instead of your first.

While RCV is truly a nonpartisan, common-sense reform, Utah conservatives have been working on ranked-choice voting for decades. Some may argue that ranked-choice voting is complicated and not secure, while more conspiracy-minded opponents claim ranked-choice voting is the product of some novel, out-of-state liberal conspiracy. But the truth is we’ve been trying to figure out a better way to vote in Utah for decades, and we’re far from well-funded D.C. operatives — all of us are die-hard Utah Republicans.

The good news is that the voters have already spoken: The reviews are in for Utah’s second run at RCV, and they’re overwhelmingly positive. Eighty-one percent of voters who used ranked-choice voting in 2021 thought RCV was easy to use. Ninety percent said ballot instructions were clear. Overall, 86% of voters were satisfied with ranked-choice voting and 62% now prefer RCV over traditional elections.

It’s clear that ranked-choice voting has a solid foundation in Utah and within the Republican Party. It’s been debated, tested and proven successful over decades. Most importantly, voters like it.

Whether you’re voting in deep-blue Salt Lake City or deep-red Lehi, you can trust that this Utah-grown reform will support a good and fair process. No more worrying about vote splitting, strategic voting or voting against someone. Ranked-choice voting doesn’t advantage Republicans or Democrats — it will advantage you, the voter.

Marc Roberts is a former member of the Utah House of Representatives. He served in the Legislature for eight years from 2013-2020. He currently operates a FinTech company in Spanish Fork.

Lowell Nelson is a former Republican Party state vice chair. He has served in many roles within the Utah Republican Party for more than three decades.

Ben Smith has served in various capacities within the Utah Republican Party and currently operates a construction company in southern Utah County.

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