The Lehi City Council will meet on Tuesday to determine this year’s city council and mayor race method.
In December, the Council decided to opt-in to ranked-choice voting (RCV) for the 2021 election but have until April 15 to opt-out if they choose.
According to Harvard Law, ranked-choice voting also called instant runoff voting, allows voters to rank their preferences in order—one, two, three, etc. Voters may also choose to vote as they always have. For example, just vote for their preferred candidate. If no candidate gets over 50% of the first-choice votes in races with more than two candidates, the lowest-ranked candidate is dropped. The second choices of his or her votes are counted and added to the higher-ranked candidates. This process continues until a candidate receives over 50% and is declared the winner.
Proponents of this voting style cite advantages such as more civil discourse in campaigns, the opportunity for underdogs to win and cost savings because of eliminating primary races. Opponents claim that RCV is confusing to voters and doesn’t count every ballot equally.
The Council will be deciding on the method of this year’s voting and whether there will be a primary election in August. If the City decides to move forward with RCV, the likelihood of no primary comes into play.
Mayor Mark Johnson began the most recent election discussion by informing the Council of this year’s increase in election costs. The cost of Lehi’s municipal elections, administered by Utah County, has increased by approximately $34,0000, bringing the total to $85,000 for the primary and an additional $85,000 for the November General Election. Eliminating the primary election would save Lehi $85,000.
Johnson also addressed past concerns about voter access to candidates with no primary election. “We can do additional things like open houses and other opportunities for people to promote themselves and their platforms. So, I ask the Council to consider that,” said Johnson.
Councilwoman Katie Koivisto has been an ardent defender of the primary, crediting her election success to the traditional campaign schedule of a primary.
“Honestly, I still don’t feel comfortable with ranked-choice voting, but I was willing to give it a try. However, I don’t feel comfortable getting rid of the primary,” said Koivisto
“We not only would be introducing something new to Lehi residents, but we also are going to be taking away something that gives them the opportunity to sift through the weeds,” continued Koivisto.
Koivisto acknowledged the potential savings but argued that the savings isn’t significant enough, “I’m a penny pincher, but we as a city have justified much lesser things at a much higher cost. I feel very strongly about keeping the primary.”
Councilman Chris Condie, who is still undecided on the fate of the primary and whose seat is up for reelection this year, said, “It’s a gamble on how many people are going to run. If it’s five, then I don’t see the point of a primary. If there are fifteen, then I do see the need for a primary. It’s that gamble of how many people will run.”
Councilwoman Paige Albrecht challenged the claim that the primary provides more access to voters, “I don’t know that having a primary is a mechanism toward higher education of the candidates. I think it is a poor man’s polling. A voter who chooses to be educated will educate themselves, and those that don’t will pick from a list of names.”
To conclude the discussion, Councilman Mike Southwick mentioned the paltry turnout in most primary elections and higher voter engagement for general elections.
Mayor Johnson instructed city staff to explore campaign events and voter outreach opportunities to present to the City Council on April 13, when the Council will decide on both ranked-choice voting and the primary election.