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The City Journals

West Valley City to research ranked choice voting

Feb 10, 2021 02:47PM ● By Travis Barton

Voting methods could change in the future, but West Valley officials are in no rush to do it this year. (Photo by Parker Johnson/Unsplash)

By Travis Barton | travis.b[email protected]

West Valley City officials discussed the possibility of changing the voting method of its municipal elections to ranked choice voting at its Jan. 19 study meeting. 

Ranked choice voting works like this: Instead of choosing one candidate as is currently done, you would instead rank them in first place, second place and so on. If no candidate reaches 51%, a clear majority, then the candidate with the least votes is eliminated. Those who voted for the eliminated candidate would then see their votes assigned to their second choice. This continues until one has the majority.  

Overall, the City Council was interested in learning more, but felt no urgency to implement ranked choice voting in 2021. 

Payson and Vineyard cities utilized this voting method in 2019 where by all indications it proved successful. Though both cities have reportedly not made any plans to continue with ranked choice voting yet. Both plan to make decisions by April. 

Citing both cities having yet to make the decision after using it, Mayor Ron Bigelow said he doesn’t “feel a sense of urgency to pursue anything.” 

Proponents of the system argue ranking candidates would require a more informed voter and more civil campaigns as candidates would want to appeal to as many voters as possible. Also, cities would need to run only one election, jettisoning the primary election—held in June—for the general election held in November. 

Councilman Lars Nordfelt also felt no rush, but was interested in pursuing the concept. “It gives more voice to the voter, which is what we really want, but I don’t want to try something that’s not been tried yet,” he said during the study meeting. 

While it was done in Payson and Vineyard, both cities’ populations combined don’t equal one council district in West Valley City, Councilman Jake Fitisemanu Jr. noted. 

Fitisemanu said he’s in the info gathering phase and wants to “learn more of the nuts and bolts.” 

“What I’ve seen so far is more of a ‘general satisfaction’ (with ranked choice voting) than anything else,” he said. 

Officials from Utah Ranked Choice Voting, a nonprofit 501(c)(3), have presented the concept to various cities over the last few years with municipal leaders showing varying degrees of approval. Draper City’s Mayor Troy Walker supports the new voting method while former South Salt Lake City Councilman Mark Kindred wanted his city to adopt it while he was still in office. 

Two primary proponents for the system were Riverton Councilwomen Tish Buroker and Tawnee McCay. Buroker noted the city’s most recent election had only 36% participation and felt it might be time to try it. McCay pointed to an election race back east that used ranked choice voting where the candidates recommended voting for a specific candidate if they didn’t vote for them. 

Riverton Councilman Sheldon Stewart was skeptical, worried there was a political agenda behind the movement as well as voter fatigue. 

City Recorder Nichole Camac said Salt Lake County Council recently approved an agreement to purchase the equipment necessary to perform such elections, however they have not received the equipment yet and would need time to test through everything. 

There are also bills at the legislation that could address this, though all three were in their infancy. One bill would reportedly allow cities to choose.