Utah on the Verge of Scuttling RCV Pilot Project

Kevin Dietrich

As Nevadans prepare to give thumbs up or down to ranked-choice voting this fall, the system is running up against significant opposition in neighboring Utah.

The Utah House of Representatives voted late last week to cut short a pilot program giving cities in the state the option to use ranked-choice voting, or RCV, in municipal elections.

Rep. Katy Hall, R-South Ogden, sponsored House Bill 290, which would end the RCV program before the 2025 elections, citing complaints she’s received from residents of different Utah cities that the process is too confusing.

Other issues in Utah include concerns over the ability to audit RCV election results, difficulties with scrutinizing larger fields of candidates and an increased burden placed on candidates to run longer campaigns, according to the Deseret News.

Nevadans will consider RCV in November when they vote on the Top Five Ranked Choice Voting Initiative. If approved, the ballot initiative would dramatically alter how Nevadans vote for state and most federal offices, from the state legislature and governor to the U.S. Senate and House.

Under RCV, as many as five individuals would be on the ballot for each office. Voters would be required to rank candidates for each race, from first to last. Votes would be tabulated in rounds until one candidate has a majority.

If no candidate has a majority in the first round, the candidate who came in last is dropped. Those who supported that candidate would see their votes go to their second-ranked candidate. The process continues until someone receives a majority.

The initiative would also significantly change how primaries are run in the state. Nevada’s traditional primary system would be replaced with California-style “jungle primaries,” which would require all candidates to run in a single primary where voters could cross over and vote for candidates from other parties.

In 2018, Utah approved creation of the program to allow localities to use RCV for municipal elections. That pilot program is scheduled to end on Jan. 1, 2026, but HB 290 would stop it on May 1, 2024.

The bill still needs approval from the Utah Senate. The governor would then have to sign the bill or allow it to become law without his signature for it to be enacted.

Utah cities have been moving away from using ranked-choice voting. Two cities employed RCV in 2019 and that number jumped to 23 two years later. But it fell by nearly half to 12 last year.

Problems that have cropped up in Utah with RCV include that of the town of Genola, located 25 miles south of Provo. Some 58 percent of ballots in Genola’s City Council Race 1 in the 2021 elections “were either discarded out of hand or otherwise spoiled,” while City Council Race 2 had a rate of discarded or spoiled ballots of more than 74 percent, according to the Election Transparency Initiative.

The institute added that several Utah jurisdictions have reported that promised cost savings have not materialized, voter engagement has fallen and voters have struggled to adapt.

RCV has caused confusion and raised concerns in numerous locales across the United States. It would be unfortunate if Nevadans didn’t pay heed to the eye-opening experiences of others.

Kevin Dietrich

Kevin Dietrich

Director of Mainstream Media

Kevin Dietrich joined Nevada Policy in 2022 and currently serves as the Director of Mainstream Media.

He has more than 20 years of experience in communications, including serving as the director of communications and marketing for the South Carolina Bankers Association, working as a speechwriter for South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and assisting with internal communications for CVS Caremark.

Kevin graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in Journalism and a minor in History. A fifth-generation Californian, he spent a decade as a journalist, working for newspapers in Florida, New York, New Hampshire and South Carolina.