Senate committee kills Ranked Choice Voting proposal

Utah State CapitolOn a 3-3 tie vote, a Senate committee killed a Democratic-backed election reform proposal to implement Ranked Choice Voting for municipal and primary elections.

The defeat is the latest skirmish between lawmakers and the Utah GOP Central Committee in the war over the SB54 compromise, which was adopted in 2014. \

More on that in a minute.

Last week, the Utah House overwhelmingly supported the bill sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City. 

HB349 would allow voters to rank their choice of candidates in primary elections with more than three candidates. If the voters first choice is eliminated, and none of the remaining candidates won a majority, the second choice is counted and on down the ballot until a majority winner is determined.

This Ranked Choice Voting proposal was at the center of some “palace intrigue” on Utah’s Capitol Hill. Early in this year’s session, the Senate brought forward SB114, sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, which provided for a mail-only runoff election in primary elections with four or more candidates, and none of them got 35% of the vote. 


The Utah GOP has filed multiple lawsuits against SB54, but said they would drop those legal actions if the Utah Legislature did something to address the “plurality issue” which could lead to a candidate winning a party nomination without a majority of the vote. SB114 was offered up as a way to fix that problem, and the Utah GOP agreed, voting to drop their lawsuit and support Bramble’s bill.

However, that detente lasted about 3 weeks when the Utah Republican Central Committee reneged on the deal, revived their lawsuit and rejected Bramble’s bill in favor of Chavez-Houck’s Ranked Choice Voting proposal. Essentially, the Senate called the Utah GOP’s bluff on SB54.

Despite the House vote in favor, it’s no surprise that the Senate killed HB349 as part of their standoff with the GOP CC over SB54. The public rejection of Bramble’s solution by the CC, and their vote in favor of Chavez-Houck’s idea was essentially a slap in the face of Senate Republicans.

Unless the Senate takes extraordinary action to revive Chavez-Houck’s bill in the waning days of the 2017 session, the plurality problem will remain unresolved until next year.