ELECTIONS

Riverton bows out of ranked choice voting as pilot program proceeds

May 4, 2023, 4:00 PM | Updated: 6:27 pm

Example of ranked choice voting ballot. Twelve cities across Utah will participate in ranked choice...

FILE: This sample ballot from FairVote.org demonstrates what a ranked-choice ballot would look like. (FairVote.org)

(FairVote.org)

Editor’s note: This article has been edited to reflect that Andy Pierucci is a Riverton City Councilmember and that a spokeswoman for Utah RVC spoke to the Riverton City Council. We regret the error.

SALT LAKE CITY — Do a Google search for ranked choice voting (RCV) and one of the first hits is the Draper City webpage, which defines RCV as a system that lets voters rank political candidates by preference. Instead of voting for one person, the voter says “this is my first choice, this is my second,” etc.

And since 2019, Utah’s been involved in a pilot program to test the waters of RCV in city (municipal) elections. Utah’s program expanded to include 23 cities in 2021. But when the time came for cities to opt into the pilot program again, only 12 cities stayed.

Why rock the boat?

Why did eleven cities get out of the pilot program? Riverton City Council member Andy Pierucci said he voted against remaining in the program because of trust.

“Trust in our elections has been plummeting over the last few years,” he said. “The question I kept asking is ‘why would we do something to upset our process when trust is plummeting so much already?'”

A Gallup poll in April 2019 found 59% of those asked were not confident in the honesty of U.S. elections. In 2022, the Pew Research Center noted a “sharp decline” of trust in U.S. elections by GOP voters.

Days before the mid-term election in 2022, a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll found that an overwhelming majority of Utah voters felt either confident or very confident that state and local government would conduct a fair and accurate election.

Does RCV save money?

A report by the Sutherland Institute on the benefits and drawbacks of RCV in Utah says that by using RCV, taxpayer funds are saved by the elimination of a primary election.

But Pierucci told KSL NewsRadio the Riverton City Council questioned whether RCV saves the city money.

“It actually does not, or did not this time around,” he said. “It was dependent on how many other cities participated in the program because there is a shared cost-nature of ranked-choice voting at least for Utah’s pilot program.”

At least some of the shared cost comes from the equipment required to tabulate the different types of ballots used in ranked-choice voting.  

In Salt Lake County there is an additional shared cost, said Kelleen Potter, the executive director of Utah RVC, a non-profit organization that offers to help cities defray the cost of ranked-choice voting.

“Salt Lake County uses Dominion and there is a $25,000 software charge that will be divided among the cities who use RCV,” she said.

Pierucci said he also has concerns about Utah RVC.

“There’s an organization in the state that is offering to help cities defray those costs through donations they’ve received from private institutions and private donors,” Pierucci said. 

Follow the money

He said that a representative of Utah RVC spoke at a Riverton City Council meeting and didn’t adequately answer a question when asked about who funds the group.

“We receive funding from small donations from people in Utah,”  Potter told KSL NewsRadio, “and from two organizations, the Arnold Foundation and Unite America.” 

Finally, Pierucci said another reason he was against going forward with RCV involved the supporters’ talk of civility.

“A lot of the proponents for rank choice voting, their first argument is that it increases civility in our political dialogue … We should not be looking to government to increase civility.”

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Riverton bows out of ranked choice voting as pilot program proceeds