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Ranked Choice Voting coming to Utah? City leaders are deciding

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City leaders across the state have less than two weeks to decide if they want to be part of a new voting system.

“There is a need for improvement and if there are better mechanisms for which we can conduct our elections lets give it a try," said Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck.

Chavez-Houck is one of the legislators sponsoring a Ranked Choice Voting initiative in Utah. She says she brought it to the table because it does away with primaries, saves money and increases voter turnout.

“The voters feel they really do have a choice, even if their first choice doesn’t get in but their second or third one does. They feel like, 'Oh, I didn’t throw my vote away by voting for somebody that didn’t win,'” Chavez-Houck said.

She also said it really helps for candidates to focus on what they stand for rather than attacking each other.

“It spoke to me, as a legislator, as a way to diffuse some of the divisiveness that we see in campaigns as of late,” she said.

So how does it work?

Instead of picking one candidate, voters rank all of them. Come counting time, if one candidate doesn’t have a majority — 51 percent of the vote or more — the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated.

Those second votes are then counted. If there is still no majority, another candidate is eliminated and now a third vote could be counted. This process happens until a candidate has a majority.

The proposed program is a pilot; cities can back out until May 2019. With new equipment and software possibly needed, some cities could not be ready come election time. But Chavez-Houck said she’s committed to help those cities willing to take the leap of faith.

So far, West Jordan and Lehi have opted in.

“It gives them an opportunity to express their feeling and vote. That's what intrigued me about the system and I thought well as a council as a city, let's look at it and see if it's even conceivable for us,” said Jim Riding, mayor of West Jordan.

Provo leaders were generally not expressing a similar sentiment on Tuesday, though.

“The general feeling seemed to be that now, 2019 was not the right time to engage with this,” said David Harding, vice chair of the Provo City Council.

Provo City will not write off the idea completely, though, just put it off until 2021.

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“The county is still learning how to effectively implement vote-by-mail elections — we feel that now is not the best time to introduce additional change,” Harding said.

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