October 12, 2021

Voters will choose candidates in a new way this fall

By Turner Bitton

Residents of Salt Lake City who are active voters in city elections may have noticed the disappearance of a staple of city elections – the primary. That’s because Salt Lake City, along with several other municipalities in Utah, has adopted Ranked Choice Voting as the mechanism for the 2021 municipal election.

Ranked choice voting has grown in popularity across the nation and while this is Salt Lake City’s first experience using this electoral system, it is safe and secure. Several cities as well as the Utah Democratic Party and Utah Republican Party have successfully used ranked choice voting in their elections.

Ranked choice voting is what it sounds like – rather than being required to select only one candidate on the ballot, voters will be given the opportunity to rank multiple candidates according to their own preference. Ranked choice voting is billed by proponents such as FairVote as a way of making democracy fairer and more functional.

In short, ranked choice voting is about ensuring that the winner of the election wins with a clear majority of votes, rather than a plurality of votes cast.

It is most helpful to think of ranked choice voting as occurring in rounds. In a ranked choice voting electoral system, voters rank candidates by preference. These preferences correspond with each round of voting. If any candidate receives more than fifty percent of votes in the first round, they win the election outright.

If when ballots are counted, there is no candidate with over fifty percent of votes, the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated. Once eliminated, the votes of people who supported that candidate will be reallocated to individual voters’ second choice. Then the votes are retabulated. This process continues until a candidate receives over fifty percent of the vote.

Here’s a simple explanation of how ranked choice voting will work on ballots in Salt Lake City.

Let’s say that there are 6 candidates on your ballot for city council. As a voter using ranked choice voting, you can choose to rank all of them or only a few of them. You do not have to rank all candidates but be aware that races with more candidates could go through multiple rounds of voting. If you do not want a particular candidate to win, don’t include them in your rankings because then there is no chance they receive the vote you cast for them.

Your first choice will be counted first. If that candidate gets the lowest number of votes in the first round, your vote will then be counted for your second choice and so on until a candidate wins a majority of the votes.

Because every candidate will appear on your ballot and will undergo the process of elimination in subsequent rounds, there is no need for a primary. Essentially, the primary and general elections will be held at the same time with each round taking the place of a primary election.

Here are three important things to remember as you cast your ballot:

Read your ballot thoroughly before completing it. Your ballot will include instructions for successfully voting and your ballot must be completed correctly to count.

You do not have to vote for every candidate. However, if your preferred candidate receives the fewest number of votes in the first round, your subsequent rankings will matter.

Expect some delays in reporting a winner. Ranked choice voting means that some delay in declaring a winner could occur as the tabulation goes through multiple rounds of counting.

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Published in Fall 2021