By Meara Geraty
Digital Content Coordinator, RepresentUs

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), sometimes referred to as Instant Runoff Voting, is having a moment.

This once-wonky election reform is a simple, powerful — and increasingly popular — way to give voters more choice and more voice at the ballot box. It’s gaining huge momentum in Utah, where a stunning 23 municipalities will use it in local elections this year.

This is clearly great news for voters in the Beehive State. Here’s why it’s also great news for the rest of the country, too.

First, a quick recap: What is Ranked Choice Voting?

Ranked choice voting is simple: Instead of selecting one candidate, you rank multiple candidates in order of preference. For example, you can put Luke Skywalker as your first choice, Princess Leia as your second choice, and Han Solo as your third choice.

If Luke Skywalker receives over 50% of the votes, he wins, just like any other race. But if no one gets a majority of the vote, the candidate with the least votes is removed (polls say that’ll be Jabba the Hutt). Whoever had Jabba as their first choice will instead have their second choice counted. This continues until one interstellar traveler — er, candidate — has over 50% of the vote.

While it’s a simple change to the way we vote, it has a huge, positive impact on our elections.

It ends the spoiler effect, so you can vote your conscience without accidentally electing the candidate you like least. It saves municipalities money; incentivizes civil, issues-based campaigning; and most of all, RCV ensures that elected officials actually have approval from a majority of voters.

Utah’s historic expansion of Ranked Choice Voting, explained

In 2018, the Utah legislature approved a pilot program that gave cities the ability to opt in to RCV for their municipal elections. Just two cities, Vineyard and Payson of Utah County, signed on to use the system in their 2019 elections. Paysen used the system to elect three city council members that year.

After seeing the success in Paysen and Vineyard, 21 more localities opted in this past week. It’s not surprising — voters in these 21 cities got to see how simple and useful the process was for their peers in Utah County. In fact, a 2019 survey of voters who used RCV in Paysen and Vineyard found that more than 80% of voters preferred RCV over the previous method.

There are also legitimate financial reasons for cities to adopt RCV, a fact that isn’t lost on Heber City Mayor Kelleen Potter. Heber will be adopting RCV for the first time this year, and Potter expects doing so will save her city $20,000 by avoiding a primary election.

This is how change happens. Victories at the local level motivate other municipalities to try it out, and their success builds momentum for even more. Seeing just two cities use RCV encouraged 21 others to get on board, including the capital and most populous city, Salt Lake City. As more places adopt RCV, momentum can build for state wins.

All of this wouldn’t be possible without the incredible work of Utah Ranked Choice Voting, a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that has been building momentum for RCV in Utah for years.

RCV is sweeping the nation — and not just in red or blue states

That’s right — ranked choice voting is something both sides of the aisle can actually agree on.

Due to the need to conduct virtual state conventions last spring, both the Utah GOP and Democratic party implemented RCV for their state conventions in 2020 to great success. Both the Republican and Democratic Chairmen voiced approval of the new method, and said it led to more civility in the election process.

Ruby-red Utah isn’t the only state making RCV news in recent weeks. In the south, the Georgia legislature recently implemented ranked choice voting for overseas and military voters, and Virginia’s Republican party used it at their nominating convention last week.

On the other side of the aisle, New York City is gearing up for it’s first-ever election using RCV, which passed in 2019, and Austin, TX, another blue city, passed RCV on May 1, 2021. Major expansions of ranked choice voting are taking off around the country, supported by voters and officials of all political stripes.

While bipartisan agreement may be shocking in 2021, this is one reform everyone can get behind. Ranked choice voting simply gives voters more choice and more voice, no matter what party they belong to.

It makes for a more fair election, makes sure that elected officials actually have a mandate from the majority of voters, tamps down on toxic negative campaigning, and saves cash-strapped governments time and money.

The momentum built by these recent wins is crucial to fuel broader state and national efforts, but the anti-corruption movement will has more work to do to turn this opportunity into more victories.

Join the movement to end corruption and fix our broken elections.

RepresentUs is America’s leading anti-corruption organization working city-by-city, state-by-state to fix our broken political system.