For the last five years, municipal voters through their elected city leaders have exercised the right to administer local elections through ranked choice voting, should they choose to do so. But this year, a legislative proposal to revoke that right (HB290) has gained momentum.

Utah voters and lawmakers should oppose HB290 because it lacks a compelling justification. It violates the governing principle of local control — known as subsidiarity — and lacks persuasive grounding in the facts.

Ranked choice voting allows a voter to rank candidates according to their moral convictions and values — first choice, second choice, third choice, etc. — without “wasting” their vote on a candidate with no shot at winning. Votes initially go to voters’ first choice candidate, and then the candidate in last place is eliminated from consideration. The last-place candidate’s votes are then reallocated to those voters’ next choice, and then the new last-place candidate is eliminated from consideration. This process continues until a candidate gains a majority vote and is declared the winner.

Under a state pilot program in which cities and towns can opt into using ranked choice voting for local elections, two Utah cities held ranked choice voting elections in 2019. That number grew to nine cities in 2021 and 11 cities in 2023. If HB290 is enacted, it would end that pilot program this year.

Under the Utah Constitution, it is clear that the Legislature has political authority to revoke cities’ right to use ranked choice voting in local elections. But this fact only leads to the critical policy question at stake with HB290: Is revoking that right a just policy decision that is persuasively grounded in the facts?

Utah’s experiment with ranked choice voting might get cut short

The ranked choice voting pilot follows the governing principle of subsidiarity — the idea that the government closest to the people that is equipped to properly handle a policy decision is the one that will govern best. Before state lawmakers revoke a right for cities to self-govern in elections that they themselves established, it is reasonable to ask that they offer compelling justification for such a decision based on the principle of subsidiarity.

Cities have proven capable of properly handling the decision of whether to use ranked choice voting. Cities that use ranked choice voting today are those where, on average, voters appreciate the benefits that ranked choice voting brings. Cities which do not currently use ranked choice voting are those where, on average, voters are concerned with the drawbacks of ranked choice voting.

In short, the pilot program is working. Cities are adopting or rejecting ranked choice voting according to the expressed will of their voters.

This means that HB290 would turn the principle of subsidiarity on its head without compelling justification — forwarding the idea that state lawmakers govern best even when cities are closer to voters and capable of making sound decisions regarding ranked choice voting. When municipal voters and their elected city leaders have proven that they can handle a policy decision, it is unjust to take it away without a compelling reason.

The facts on the ground point to a similar conclusion. A number of cities testified in legislative committee hearings that they and their voters desire to continue using ranked choice voting. That decision would not do concrete harm to others.

In addition, a recent Sutherland Institute/Y2 Analytics survey of likely voters in Utah found by a 60%-40% margin that likely voters believe ranked choice voting should remain an option in local elections. Statistically, likely voters are split on whether they want their city to use ranked choice voting and whether they think the ranked choice voting method or traditional method for determining who wins an election is best. During a recent episode of Sutherland’s “Defending Ideas” podcast, I argued that this split in views on ranked choice voting points to the wisdom of keeping ranked choice voting as an option for local elections: Some voters desire to use it, while others object to doing so.

Obviously, these are not the only relevant or important facts in the debate over HB290. But they do point to the conclusion that the evidence is not persuasively in favor of ending the pilot program.

Lacking a compelling rationale in principle or a persuasive factual basis for ending the ranked choice voting pilot, state lawmakers and voters should respect the principle of local control and self-government in election policy. They can do this by opposing HB290.

Derek Monson is chief growth officer at Sutherland Institute, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance principled public policy and promote the constitutional values of faith, family and freedom.