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Davis Journal

County pushes back against ranked-choice voting

May 06, 2021 01:34PM ● By Becky Ginos

Voters drive through the Legacy Events Center to cast their ballots during the primary election in 2020. Courtesy photo

FARMINGTON—As municipal elections loom, some cities are debating whether they should go to a ranked-choice voting pilot program as opposed to the traditional system. However, county officials don’t believe it’s in the best interest of the residents of Davis County.

“Ranked-choice voting is a method where voters rank all of the candidates on the ballot,” said Davis County Clerk/Auditor Curtis Koch. “Then the votes are counted and they are moved from one candidate to another depending on how popular they are in that round and subsequent rounds. Our office is taking the position that we’re not comfortable moving votes from one candidate to another.”

Cities contract with the county to run municipal elections, he said. “If cities want to implement it, we’ll honor that. It’s their choice but that’s not what we’re contracted for. It’s not a method of voting we have confidence in.”

Koch said the reason for that is there is a national crisis of confidence in the election process. “With approval voting you tally up the votes and you can stand up and say ‘this is the person.’ It’s clear and concise and to the point and is very transparent.”

Under state statute city recorders are the election officers for municipal elections, he said. “They’re great. We love our city recorders. We’re nothing more than a contractor and we’ll run it in a transparent, accurate way that residents can have confidence in.”

Prior to 2015 the county didn’t contract with all the cities. Each municipal year it’s up to them whether they want to contract with the county. “We love our relationship with them and won’t stand in their way if they wanted to do ranked-choice voting,” Koch said.

However, ranked-choice adds another level of complexity, he said. “We’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of ballots moving data back and forth. I don’t see the benefits to warrant it. As an elected official I’m in the position of having to defend it. I don’t think it inspires voter confidence.”

Those who want ranked-choice contend it makes elections more civil, said Koch. “They say the candidates want to get their second vote so it’s less likely there will be mud slinging. Others say it will eliminate a primary which saves money. Approval voting can do the same thing. The value of elections at the core is they are a governmental function. That is going to cost money.”

Koch said their goal is to support the cities. “We don’t want to impede them in any way shape or form but I don’t believe it’s in the best interests of the citizens. I would strongly encourage cities to really research approval voting. They can do that without changing processes and yield all the perceived advantages of ranked-choice voting.”

This isn’t just a difference of opinion, he said. “Election officials have spoken very clearly about this for several years. The Utah Clerk Auditors Association has consistently taken that position (against it).”

Cities must declare their decision by the second Monday in May. “People might say, ‘oh the county won’t allow us to do it,’” said Deputy Clerk/Auditor Brian McKenzie. “That is not the case. If cities want to do it that’s great but it’s not a service we provide. It’s like if you came into a restaurant that serves hamburgers and you want a pizza they’d say, ‘I’m sorry we don’t provide that.’”

“It’s an issue that will continue to be out there,” said Koch. “Hopefully as we move forward we can find some long-term solutions to the challenges.”