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The City Journals

Casting a vote: Council considering adjustment to its voting methods

Jan 13, 2022 12:34PM ● By Travis Barton

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

Vote with your voice or with an electronic button? That was the question for the West Jordan City Council in a November study meeting with the majority interested in a combined approach.  

The inquiry came from Council Director Alan Anderson as the city prepared to implement a new agenda management software. One of the features offered was an electronic roll call vote for council members. Currently, the city recorder will call upon each councilmember who will vote out loud in favor or against a motion. Anderson wanted direction from the council if they should look into the electronic voting aspect of the software. 

Under the new method, council members would input their vote electronically, once all seven members of the council have submitted their votes, the monitor in the council chambers (or on the video stream) would display how everyone voted. 

Councilmember Zach Jacob said during the November meeting this way if the council is split 3-3 then the final councilmember voting isn’t put on the “hotseat.” 

“I like that idea,” he said. “I like that you’re not necessarily put on the spot as much if it’s something you’re really struggling with and you’re not sure how you want to vote.” 

The electronic method, currently used by Highland City in Utah County, could potentially streamline the voting process, but Councilmember Chris McConnehey worried you could “lose some of the nuance” if someone reluctantly votes in favor or against.   

“With the voice vote, it’s nice to be able to hear when someone has hesitation or how strong they are for or against it,” he said. 

McConnehey also noted possible examples where you vote one way to send a message to the residents so they “feel heard” despite knowing the right thing is to vote the other way. 

“So if I’m toward the end [of the voting order], and I see the motion going the way I feel like it should, sometimes my vote will be more to make a statement than how I think it should end up,” he said. “I like being able to have that nuance.” 

“I want to make sure people realize that it’s heard,” he later added. 

But for Jacob and Councilmember Chad Lamb, there would be plenty of time to voice how a council member feels about how they should vote. 

“For me, I think you vote something up or down based on whether you want it passed or not,” Jacob said. 

Lamb felt it may help for better decisions. 

“This takes the emotion out of it,” Lamb said. “You’re not voting based on what the other voted for; you’re voting for what you want to vote for.” 

“I think it makes it more honest,” Jacob added. 

For Councilmember Kayleen Whitelock, who said she wasn’t sure how she felt about the electronic method and wondered what problem they were trying to solve with this technology, she said “emotion is good” with decision making. 

“I don’t think emotion in votes is a bad thing,” she said. “Having emotion is a good thing, you’re adding the human insight.” 

Voting without the knowledge of how others voted could affect the way members consider their votes. Casting a council member’s vote after hearing how or why others voted could influence their decision, something Whitelock said is useful. 

“That’s weighing everything out, that’s taking an additional layer of data and using that for your vote,” she said. 

The order of who votes first and last is randomized, according to Anderson. 

The compromise came in Councilmember Kelvin Green’s suggestion to allow a request for traditional roll call vote. 

“If it’s nuanced, just ask for a voice vote,” he said, later adding it could be part of procedure to inquire if anyone objects to electronic voting prior to the vote, giving someone a platform to call for a voice vote. 

Councilmember Melissa Worthen said she liked the “flexibility” of Green’s compromise, pointing out some votes that are straightforward, while other votes may require more explanation behind a person’s choice. 

Anderson was directed by a majority of the council to learn more about the electronic process.