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The City Journals

Incumbents emerge victorious from ranked-choice voting election

Nov 23, 2021 04:36PM ● By Mimi Darley Dutton

Election assistant Becky Overacker helps first-time voter Zyon Bruce. (Mimi Darley Dutton/City Journals)

By Mimi Darley Dutton | [email protected]

Draper was among 26 municipalities to hold a first-ever Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) election Nov. 2. As with all Utah elections, registered voters in Salt Lake County were mailed a ballot in advance of Election Day which they could return by mail or drop off at a designated location. Voters were also invited to cast their ballots in-person on Election Day at Draper City Hall using a voting machine or by dropping off their completed ballot.

RCV was approved by the legislature (House Bill 75) in March 2021 to be run as a pilot project throughout the state. H.B. 75 was sponsored by Rep. Jeff Stenquist, R-Draper. The bill clarified that it’s up to each city council to determine if their city wants to participate, and Draper’s council voted in favor of trying the new system. Salt Lake County’s Election Division runs elections for the city, so the county’s elections department purchased new machines for the purpose of conducting the county’s first-ever RCV elections.

City Hall was open for voters from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. with three election assistants on staff. The lobby was set up with five of the new voting machines. Voters first checked in with election assistants to show identification and sign in. After signing in, they were given a stylus and a plastic card, similar to a credit card, to use with the touchscreen voting machines. Voters accessed their ballot by plugging the card into the machine and they completed their ballot using the stylus.

“Those that show up to vote are glad to have that opportunity, they love coming to vote in person. Isn’t it wonderful that we live in a place that they have the choice?” said Becky Overacker, who has worked elections for nearly 20 years.

Voters came from Draper, White City, South Jordan, Herriman and West Jordan to cast their RCV ballots at Draper City Hall. “I think it went smoothly once they found out they could vote for their top two or three, that they didn’t have to rank them all. It’s a change and sometimes it takes time to adjust to a change. Not everyone was thrilled,” Overacker said.

Response to RCV was generally positive among those voting in-person. Melinda Heins of Sandy had read through her ballot at home but chose to use the voting machines provided for her first RCV. “I am very excited about it…more people are going to get somebody who represents them. I felt good about it and it was very easy,” Heins said.

Matt Jensen, a 23-year veteran with the National Guard, came dressed in full military uniform having just left Army band practice in preparation for Veterans Day. Jensen and his wife had already completed their ballots but wanted to drop them off at City Hall. Jensen, who made certain to point out that his opinion was his own and not that of the National Guard, was enthusiastic about RCV. “I think it’s far superior and I hope we keep it for good. Voting for both parties has been pushed to the extreme. RCV allows moderate candidates to succeed. I prefer moderate candidates to advance,” he said.

Draper resident Leslie Bruce also felt that RCV and the new machines were easy to use. She was accompanied by her son Zyon who was voting for the first time. Carol Lee of Draper also chose to vote in-person on Election Day. “I just want it to be safe,” Lee said.

Election worker Micki Rogan said she thinks RCV requires voters to study more about the candidates in preparation for ranking them. “I have to be more informed which isn’t bad.”

One week after the election, Draper’s City Council discussed conducting a citywide survey on how residents felt about RCV. Election results weren’t certified until two weeks after Election Day. According to Mayor Troy Walker, the delay in declaring the winners was not because of RCV but because Utah is a vote by mail state. “The vote by mail process really extended the elections,” Walker said.

According to Salt Lake County elections officials, they needed that time to count ballots that had come in late but were postmarked by the required date, and also to verify signatures on ballots that had arrived without a signature or with a signature that didn’t match what the county had on file, procedural necessities before the election could be certified. Election certification happened at the Nov. 16 council meeting with the Draper City Council acting as the Board of Canvassers.

Tasha Lowery won City Council Seat No. 1 with 58.1% of the votes. The race between Mike Green and Hubert Huh for Seat No. 2 was very close with Green winning with 50.8% (just 119 votes) over Huh at 49.2%.

Lowery and Green currently serve on city council after being elected four years ago so they’ll each serve another four-year term. Walker ran unopposed in this election for another four-year term as mayor, his third. Overall participation by Draper registered voters hovered around 31% in this election according to county statistics.