Sep 26, 2023 - News

Your guide to ranked-choice voting

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Salt Lake City is gearing up for November when it hosts its first-ever mayoral race using ranked-choice voting (RCV).

The big picture: RCV is becoming increasingly popular as more cities and states adopt or consider carrying out the electoral system.

Why it matters: Proponents say RCV results in more representative candidates, reduces so-called "spoiler" candidates and encourages more women and people of color to run for office.

  • "It's here to stay, really. We're not going to go backward," City Council member Alejandro Puy, who represents District 2, told Axios Salt Lake City.

Flashback: Puy, who is up for re-election this year, was first elected to the City Council in 2021 through an RCV election.

How it works: RCV, also called instant runoff voting, allows voters to rank their preferred candidates on the ballot.

  • A candidate is declared the winner if they receive over 50% of first-preference votes.
  • The last-place finisher is eliminated if no one collects the majority of votes.
  • If voters' first choice is disqualified, votes for that candidate will be redistributed to their next choice.
  • Tallies are calculated until a candidate wins the majority of votes.

State of play: Incumbent Mayor Erin Mendenhall and former Mayor Rocky Anderson, who served two terms between 2000 and 2008, have emerged as the frontrunners in the race.

  • Community activist Michael Valentine is also a contender.

What they're saying: "Another benefit of ranked-choice voting is that it allows people to express their preferences. They don't have to worry that voting for one candidate might be wasting their vote," Richard Pildes, a constitutional law professor at New York University School of Law, told Axios.

  • RCV can also lead to less adversarial campaigning because it forces candidates to compete to become second-choice picks.
  • While educating the public about RCV can prove challenging and costly, Puy said it doesn't "change the fact that it is the right tool to use."
  • Olivia Hoge, elections management coordinator for Salt Lake City, told Axios the city is conducting outreach to inform voters about RCV through radio ads, social media, mailers and community events.

What's next: Mail-in ballots will start getting sent out on Halloween (Oct 31).

  • The municipal election is Nov. 21.

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