Our latest “Voices & Choices” podcast features FairVote “Champions of Democracy” awardees and an example in bipartisan collaboration, Utah Representative Marc Roberts (R) and former Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck (D). The pair detail their work to pass ranked choice voting-enabling legislation in 2018, which paved the way for the first-ever ranked choice elections set to take place in Vineyard and Payson, Utah this year. They also share notes on working across the aisle and next steps for spreading RCV across the state.
The following is an excerpt from that interview, slightly edited for clarity.
Lavin: To really understand what's going on right now in Utah with ranked choice voting I think we should first kind of back up and talk about what happened last year in the 2018 legislative session and the bill that the two of you co-sponsored. Tell us a little bit about how that came to be.
Roberts: I've been wanting to get something done with ranked choice voting for a number of years and had a few bills on it and couldn't get anywhere with it. In 2017, I think it was, Representative Chavez-Houck ran a bill and I saw that she was interested in it so I said, ‘great, why don’t you run with it this year. I'll help you out.’
She really made a lot of ground that year, and we got it moved all the way through the house through to the Senate...It ended up dying in the standards committee meeting on a really close vote. But the momentum was there, so we worked really hard that summer coming into the 2018 session decided let's scale it back a little bit and just do a pilot project at the municipal level.
Rebecca and I ran it past and all the way through the House and the Senate and with little to zero opposition at all that year. And so it was really a bunch of years building up to that which allowed us to get it passed fairly easily.
Chavez-Houck: I think that’s part of the reason why we were able to get so much momentum, as I often times said, is you just have to bring it forward at a time where the message about it resonates with a large group.
And I think that after the 2016 election… there was a lot of apprehension and frustration with party politics. People were focusing so much on party reform and I thought, we need to look at is this systemically from how we elect people.
The other thing, too, is the fact that the Republican Party has been using it in the past for their internal party processes. Because they've been using it before, I actually ran into more challenges with my party folks, especially the old guard, because they weren't familiar with it and they were kind of puzzled about what I was proposing.
Lavin What is it about ranked choice voting that you think was able to convince legislators from different political parties that this was a reform that Utah needed on the Republican side of things?
Roberts: I think it was really palpable for a lot of reasons, including that it was familiar for my colleagues coming into it. I was ecstatic when Rebecca jumped on board with this because the first year I ran the Democrats just saw this as [a] crazy Republican guy [proposal.].
I'm probably the most conservative guy. Like all the way to the right and Rebecca’s completely left and we are literally the opposite sides of this thing. But what I've always liked about Rebecca is she has never let party politics... at least in my experience working with her, and I try to do the same if it's a policy that is right and I like, I don't go oppose it just because the person running it is from the opposite side of the aisle. Rebecca has been the same way. So when she jumped on board with this it really made it easier.