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After A Chaotic Tryout, Utah House Votes To Ditch Ranked-Choice Voting

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Utah Republicans took a step closer to securing their elections on Thursday after the state’s House of Representatives voted to remove the option for localities to use ranked-choice voting.

Under RCV, often dubbed “rigged-choice voting” by its critics, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of first-choice votes in the first round of voting, the last-place finisher is eliminated, and his votes are reallocated to the voter’s second-choice candidate. This process continues until one candidate receives a majority of votes.

In 2018, the GOP-controlled legislature approved legislation that created a pilot program allowing localities to use RCV for municipal elections. The program was set to expire on Jan. 1, 2026, according to Deseret News. The measure passed on Thursday, HB 290, would instead end the program on May 1, 2024.

HB 290 passed with a 43-26 vote, with 12 Republicans joining the House’s 14 Democrats in opposing the bill. Six Republicans did not vote on the legislation.

Speaking in defense of the bill, sponsor and GOP Rep. Katy Hall noted that despite lawmakers’ seemingly good intentions “to help with voter confidence … the cost of elections and deal with plurality issues,” the RCV pilot program “doesn’t appear to be having these intended consequences broadly.”

“I would argue that uniformity within the state, and within cities, is important for elections in order to maintain the trust of voters, run efficient election processes and guarantee equal access to the ballot throughout the state,” Hall said.

Various localities in Utah have reported experiencing problems with RCV after using it for municipal races in the years since the pilot program’s enactment. The town of Genola, for example, used ranked-choice voting for its 2021 municipal elections and witnessed high rates of ballots being discarded or spoiled. According to the Election Transparency Initiative, 58 percent of the ballots in Genola’s City Council Race 1 “were either discarded out of hand or otherwise spoiled,” while City Council Race 2 “had a discarded or spoiled rate of over 74%.”

A study published by the Foundation for Government Accountability last year found that RCV ballots are often discarded due to “ballot exhaustion,” a term used to describe when voters select only one candidate on their ballot, and those ballots are tossed because their first choice didn’t win a majority in the first round. In Alaska’s 2022 special congressional election, for example, more than 11,000 “exhausted” ballots were thrown out because those electors “voted for only one Republican candidate and no one else.”

Meanwhile, Utah County Clerk Aaron Davidson separately claimed, as Deseret News summarized, that the city of Lehi — which falls under his jurisdiction — experienced a “significant decrease in voter turnout” between its 2019 and 2021 municipal elections following the implementation of RCV. Sandy, another city that embraced Utah’s RCV pilot program, was forced to undergo a recount following its 2021 mayoral race partly due to “voter confusion,” with local officials later noting how RCV makes it difficult for voters to properly vet such a wide selection of candidates and costs taxpayers more than initially estimated.

The number of Utah municipalities employing the state’s ranked-choice voting pilot program declined from 23 in 2021 to 12 in 2023, according to Deseret News.

Utah is far from the only state to have experienced confusion with RCV. In 2022, Democrat Mary Peltola won Alaska’s at-large congressional seat even though “nearly 60 percent of voters [cast] their ballots for a Republican.” RCV also played a major role in helping Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski win reelection during the 2022 midterms. A similar scenario played out in a 2018 Maine congressional race, in which then-incumbent GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin lost to Democrat Jared Golden despite Poliquin winning the most votes in the first round of voting.

States such as Florida, Tennessee, South Dakota, and Idaho have banned the voting method.


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