Provo voters will not be part of the state’s pilot program for ranked choice voting.
During Tuesday’s city council working session, council voted 5-2 against the pilot option this election season. Board members David Harding and George Handley were both in favor of participating in the pilot program.
Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank their preferred candidates from first to last. If no candidate obtains more than half of the first place votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and his votes are allocated to the elector’s second choice. The process recycles until a candidate has a majority of the votes.
The towns and villages that have opted for this year’s pilot program are Lehi, Springville, Woodland Hills, Goshen, Genola, Payson and Vineyard. They are among more than a dozen Utah cities – including Salt Lake City, Draper, and Sandy – that have opted for the program this year.
In the last round of voting, Vineyard and Payson joined as the only two cities in the state to try out the alternative voting method. The two cities have had favorable reactions and are also all engaged in this electoral cycle.
While most board members noted that there are good things about the Ranking Voting, they also didn’t think the time was right for Provo. They want to see more reactions from towns and some that might be closer to Provo.
Voters in Provo will vote for three council seats and mayor this year. So far, only incumbent mayor Michelle Kaufusi has announced her intention to run again. Councilor David Sewell, who holds Citywide 1 headquarters, has announced that he will not seek another term.
The council has discussed tiered choice voting on several occasions and recently called for an open city hall poll on the subject.
Cliff Strachan, executive director of the council, has some background on the completed survey.
Strachan noted that about 400 people responded to or commented on the survey, with 154 of them signing up to take city-wide surveys on the website.
âThis equates to about nine hours of public commentary,â Strachan said. “It was very obvious that most had heard of it (vote by hierarchical choice).”
Of the 154 listed, 98% voted in the last presidential election. Residents have shown considerable support for tiered choice voting.
Before the council could discuss much, Harding proposed that the city participate in the primary elections, but at that time, he did not receive a second on the motion.
Harding noted that participation in the program was quite broad in the community.
âThere have been arguments that this is a superior method,â said Harding. He noted that the trends show that this is a good thing and that it will eventually be used by cities, states and ultimately in national elections.
Handley wanted to make sure that ranked choice voting only happened in the primaries. The decision was due to be made on Tuesday.
After more discussion about when to enter the pilot program, Handley seconded Harding’s motion.
Councilor Bill Fillmore said he was intrigued by the benefits of this type of voting.
âIn last year’s Republican Party primary, the winning candidate prevailed receiving the votes of only about 29% of those who wanted to vote in the primary, which in a state dominated by Republicans means that those 29% of Republican voters to the next state governor, âFillmore said.
âI want to see results from other cities,â Fillmore said. Fillmore was not ready to be part of the pilot program.
âI like the idea of ââpartisan elections,â Councilor Shannon Ellsworth said. “General, this doesn’t seem like a good fit for Provo.”
For example, given this year’s non-partisan municipal races, ranked choice voting would require at least three or more candidates in a district to run for the method to even work. Unfortunately, many candidates come forward without opposition.
When council asked the mayor for his opinion on the hierarchical choice voting, she deferred to her executive director, Wayne Parker, as she is a candidate and did not want to talk about it one way or another.
Parker said the administration’s general concerns center on the fact that there have been many changes in voting recently, such as the shift from voting in the voting booth to postal ballots.
âWe don’t want voter mistrust,â Parker said. “I really want to believe that every voter is informed, but I think people would be surprised if they got a ballot with a priority vote.”
Councilor David Shipley said his concerns were shared by other council members.
âI feel there’s a momentum in the state for this, but I don’t see the need to push it,â Shipley said. “I don’t feel the need to get things done.”
City Councilor Travis Hoban has said he supports tiered choice voting and has used it repeatedly as a GOP delegate, but he’s not sure this primary is the right one.
âI’m not sure about the timing. Maybe now is not the right time and I want more feedback, âHoban said.
Board Chairman Dave Sewell said learning to prioritize choice voting had been a mixed journey.
“I’m leaning not to support him this time around,” Sewell said. âI was introduced to star voting. There may be better methods to come. I prefer to wait.
Harding noted that the state developed the pilot program and wants cities to try it out before it becomes permanent.
âProvo could help shape the voting of the future,â Harding said. “Now is a good time to join the conversation.”
As Provo voters wait for another round of voting, they are encouraged to consider the various voting methods introduced, including tiered choice voting, which could be how voting will play out in the not too distant future.