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Guest opinion: Faster, cheaper and less vitriolic elections for our cities

Elections staff prepare for a recount at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, in Lauderhill, Fla.
Elections staff prepare for a recount at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, in Lauderhill, Fla.
Brynn Anderson, AP

Utah has a proud history of voting laws that promote participation and better elections. Before the midterm elections recede from memory, we would like to propose how our cities can improve how we vote before next year’s city elections: adoption of ranked choice voting.

Voters are continually dismayed at the vitriol and divisiveness that plague campaigns locally as well as nationwide, such as this year’s battle for Utah’s 4th Congressional District. Too often we hear that voters voted against a candidate instead of for a candidate.

As state legislators from opposite sides of the political spectrum, this year we joined forces to solve this problem by helping pass a law with near unanimous support that enables our cities to use ranked choice voting. City leaders — your council members and mayors — simply need to decide to take the lead.

Ranked choice voting, or RCV, results in faster, cheaper and better elections.

Faster: Right now, elections for many local leaders take place over two elections, starting with a primary in August and ending with a general election in November. RCV will efficiently elect a majority winner in one election in November. That means shorter campaigns and reduces burdens on voters, election officials and candidates juggling families and jobs.

Cheaper: Our cities today uphold majority rule with runoffs, but runoffs represent the past. They take more time, cost more money and reduce voter turnout. As Provo showed in its 2017 mayoral race, they also can’t stop write-in candidates from earning enough votes to allow winners with less than 40 percent of the vote. While there is a nominal cost to get ready to run RCV elections, that money will quickly be earned back by cities spending money on one election, not two.

Better: RCV encourages candidates to run more civil campaigns because they have more opportunities to earn voter support that can help them win. In turn, RCV encourages voters to become more informed about the candidates.

RCV rewards politicians for engaging with everyone — not just their base. Our campaigns would be less toxic, because a candidate who wants to be your second choice has incentive to be more positive. There would be no “spoiler” candidates; everyone could vote for the candidate they supported without fear that they were helping elect the person they liked least. The winner would have majority support.

Achieving these benefits is easy. You get to rank the candidates: first, second, third and so on. That’s all there is to it for voters. Well over 99 percent of voters will cast a ballot that counts and about 9 in 10 will choose to rank more than one candidate.

The RCV tally simulates a series of runoffs. If a candidate gets over half of all the first choices, that candidate wins. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is defeated, and those who ranked that candidate as “No. 1” now have their ballots go to their next choice. This process continues until a candidate wins with more than half the votes. The “instant runoff” winner will earn a majority of the vote.

RCV is a proven process that has been used at the Utah Republican Party state party conventions and many county conventions. It is catching on nationally as voters seek better politics. This year, Maine used RCV for many of its biggest elections. A dozen cities use RCV, with adoptions in several more just this year.

We believe RCV will keep gaining support across the spectrum. More choice, after all, is a deeply American concept. Please ask your city leaders to be leaders in improving our elections — and saving taxpayer money.