As previously reported, the 2020 Utah Republican Convention used ranked choice voting to select party nominees and establish who could move onto the June 30 primary. In a survey of almost a third of the 3,500 participants, delegates were overwhelmingly satisfied with the convention and 72% indicated that they prefer ranked choice voting over the multiple rounds of voting used in previous conventions. This piece takes a closer look at the races in which ranked choice voting had the biggest impact.
Utah is among the most Republican-leaning states, and its nomination contests draw a big field. Delegates voted for party nominees for 22 offices, including U.S. Representatives, State Senators and Representatives, Governor, Attorney General, School Board, and more. Of the 22 races, eight races needed multiple rounds to determine the winner(s) so we can see ranked choice voting in action.
At previous conventions, voting continued over a series of rounds until one candidate earned over 60% of the votes and became the party nominee, or until only two candidates remained, triggering a primary election.
This year, delegates used ranked choice voting instead. Each delegate submitted a ranked ballot, using as many or as few rankings in each race as he or she preferred. In the eight races with no clear winner on the first round, a delegate whose first choice was eliminated has his or her ballot instantly transferred to their next choice.
Ranked choice voting preserves the benefits of multi-round voting while saving time. For example, let’s examine the most hotly contested race at this year’s convention, the race to become the Republican nominee for the U.S. Representative from Utah’s First Congressional District. It’s an open seat race where the Republican nominee will be heavily favored in November.
With a crowded field and a divided electorate, 11 rounds of voting were needed to winnow the field to the final two candidates. We can clearly see the two front-runners, Kerry Gibson and Blake Moore, consolidating their support over 11 rounds, demonstrating that they have both depth and breadth of support among delegates. Joining them on the June 30 primary ballot will be petition candidates Bob Stevenson and Katie Witt.
In addition, ranked choice voting saved valuable time for delegates, party officials, and candidates. Those 11 rounds of voting would have taken hours if conducted using the previous method; with ranked choice voting, the tally was completed instantly.
Most races which were close enough to trigger multiple rounds of counting also resulted in no clear 60% winner, so those races will head to primary elections on June 30th. Three other contests were particularly notable; for governor, where the primary winner will be heavily favored in November; the second congressional district, where the winner will face Democratic incumbent Ben McAdams in a competitive race; and for attorney general.
Here are summaries of additional tallies that again provide instructive evidence that voters embraced ranked choice voting -- and it impacted the races.
The governor’s race featured a strong field that included lieutenant governor Spencer Cox, former governor and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, and former speaker of the Utah house Greg Hughes. Hughes needed this convention vote to earn a spot on the primary ballot, where he’ll join convention winner Cox, Huntsman and Thomas Wright. Here’s how RCV played out.
The fourth congressional district contest kept a remarkable 98.8% of votes in play from start to finish despite a close race among seven candidates. Kim Coleman and Burgess Owens advanced to the primary, where they will be joined by petition candidates Jay McFarland and Trent Christensen.
The Attorney General race could have allowed incumbent Sean Reyes to avoid a primary, but he fell short of 60 percent in the final round and will face David Leavitt on June 30.
Voters were split between three candidates in the first round, denying any candidate the 60% needed to win the party nomination. After John Swallow was eliminated from third place, most of Swallow’s supporters transferred to the second-place candidate, David Leavitt, once again denying the leader the 60% consensus he would need. Again, more than 98% of votes stayed active throughout the tally.
See the Utah GOP website for full details on other races in which ranked choice voting played a part.
A crucial benefit of ranked choice voting is that it preserves voter choice to select the candidate truly preferred by the majority, or in this case, by 60%, of voters. At the Utah GOP Convention, the first-round frontrunners continued to lead in every subsequent round, ultimately all winning the nomination or advancing to the June runoff elections as a clear favorite of convention delegates.
Because of ranked choice voting, the Utah GOP can proceed with confidence that they’ve nominated candidates who are truly the best representatives of their party delegates, rather than candidates who eke out a narrow victory with low overall support. Ironically, however, they won't be able to maintain this goal in the primaries. Utah primaries historically have had at most two candidates, and winners always earned a majority. But a 2014 law allows candidates to petition onto the ballot, expanding the field. The gubernatorial primary and congressional primaries all have four candidates. Without ranked choice voting, nominees could earn far less than 50 percent support, a problem drawing increasing attention as more Utah cities showcase how well RCV works.