Utah House approves ranked choice voting for primary elections

Utah State CapitolWow! How does this happen: The Utah House voting down a leading Republican’s election law reform bill and adopting a Democrat’s election law reform bill – a really impactful voting reform measure?

Not often, 36 years of watching the Utah Legislature can tell you.

But then, how often do you see the Utah Republican Party’s Central Committee formally endorsing a Democrat’s election reform?

That’s the case with Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck’s HB349 and Ranked Choice Voting.

While not a new idea, RCV would be a revolutionary change in Utah – one of the reddest states in the nation.

She amended her bill Friday morning to have the law take effect in 2019 – so it would not apply to the next 2018 general election.

But the state Elections Office would have to start planning for that 2019 election this July – and make a report back to the Legislature next year on how things are going.

So the 2018 Legislature – controlled by Republicans – could repeal the new way of voting.

Here’s how it would work:

— In a primary election – partisan for county, state, federal and State School Board – voters would get a ballot where they would rank their choices if three or more candidates are seeking the nomination.

If your first choice gets fewer votes and drops off, your second choice is counted, and so on down the ballot.

At the end, of course, there would be just one candidate who got 50 percent plus one – so in all primary contests, there would be a majority winner. And there would be no runoff elections.

It would work in presidential primary elections in Utah as well.

The bill got support from conservative Republicans (going along with their CC’s wishes) and from Democrats as well, passing 59-12.

With the gutting of SB114 – and an attempt by the Senate to deal with the plurality issue inside of SB54’s compromise with Count My Vote – HB349 would solve plurality issues if it is allowed to take effect in 2019.

That’s because there would be no plurality problem – Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) would ensure the final primary winner would get a majority vote.

Meanwhile, Rep. Keven Stratton’s attempt (HB314) to change the current mail-in ballot deadline bill failed, 26-45.

Stratton wanted to make the deadline for a clerk to count a mail-in ballot is when the ballot physically arrives in the clerk’s office before 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Currently, the counting deadline is whether the mail-in ballot is postmarked the day before the election.

Unfortunately for Stratton, 57,000 votes cast in the 2016 election would NOT have been counted under his proposal – and it appeared many representatives were not comfortable with that.

Yes, 30,000 mail-in ballots still were not counted in 2018 under the post-mark rule – upheld in specific court challenges.

So, for now, the post-mark on the ballot envelope will decide whether your mail-in vote is counted or not.