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Cottonwood Heights Journal

How-to: ranked choice voting

Oct 04, 2021 11:21AM ● By Cassie Goff

To gain a further understanding of Ranked Choice Voting, visit the “What is Ranked Choice Voting?” on the Cottonwood Heights City website. (Photo courtesy of fairvote)

By Cassie Goff | [email protected]

The 2021 Municipal Election will be significant for the City of Cottonwood Heights. As mentioned in this edition of the City Journals, three out of the five seats for city council are up for election with none of the currently serving elected officials opting to run for re-election. This year, Cottonwood Heights residents will elect a new mayor, a new city councilmember for District 3, and a new city councilmember for District 4.

Ranked Choice Voting will be used to tally up the residential votes for these races. Instead of voting for one candidate per race as residents have previously been accustomed to, voters will be able to rank candidates based on preference. The Cottonwood Heights City Council voted to approve the use of Ranked Choice Voting on May 4.

Ballots will appear slightly different for voters using Ranked Choice Voting. Voters will be able to fill in their candidate preferences for each race based on a table. Candidate names will be listed in the left-hand column (or the y-axis). Preference based on numerical ordering will be listed across the top of the table (or the x-axis). Voters will be asked to fill in a bubble for each column. The most preferred candidate for a specific race should be bubbled in within the first column labeled “First Choice.” Then, the second choice candidate should be bubbled in within the second column, and so on. 

For voters, Salt Lake County recommends not ranking a candidate more than once. In other words, listing one candidate for first, second, and third choice will not benefit the candidate in any way. It is also not recommended to give a candidate the same ranking. However, voters can choose to rank as many of the candidates as they would like. Any of the remaining “choice” columns can be left blank, if preferred.

“Voters have more of a voice,” said Cottonwood Heights City Recorder Paula Melgar in May. “Preferences are counted for second and third choice. That vote doesn’t just go away.”

Instead of a single-choice, winner-takes-all voting system, Ranked Choice Voting allows for a different methodology to be used when tabulating votes. Each voter's first preference for candidate is recorded initially. If a single candidate receives over 50% of the vote, they are announced as the winner. If there is not a clear majority vote, counting moves to phase two.

If no one candidate receives over 50% of the vote after the first initial count, the candidate with the least amount of votes is eliminated from the race. Then, the ballots of the voters who ranked the (now eliminated) candidate as their first choice are revisited to count their second choice for preferred candidate. After those votes are redistributed based on second preference, the candidate with over 50% of the vote wins. If there is not a clear majority again, phasing continues until there is. An example is detailed below.

Along with Cottonwood Heights, a handful of various municipal elections have opted to utilize Ranked Choice Voting this year. Bluffdale, Draper, Riverton, Midvale, Millcreek, Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake, Sandy, and Magna Metro Township will all be counting votes based on preference.

To learn more about Ranked Choice Voting in Utah, visit the Utah County Elections Division ( or Utah Ranked Choice Voting’s website (

For more information about voting in Salt Lake County, visit the Salt Lake County Clerk’s informational page through

Additional information from Cottonwood Heights can be accessed by visiting, hovering over the “Your Government” tab across the top, navigating to the “Public Records and Notices” column and clicking on “Ranked Choice Voting.”

Ranked Choice Voting Example 

As an example, say there are five candidates running for mayor: Watermelon, Orange, Blueberry, Kiwi, and Grape. One hundred votes were cast from residents. Watermelon received 23 votes, Orange received 24 votes, Blueberry received 12 votes, Kiwi received nine votes, and Grape received 32 votes.

Since nobody received over 50% of the vote in that first count, the candidate with the fewest number of votes (Kiwi) is eliminated. Those nine ballots that originally opted Kiwi as their first choice will now be revisited to count their second preference. Out of those nine voters, four marked Orange as their second preference and five marked Grape as their second preference. Those votes are then redistributed, so Watermelon now has 23 votes, Orange has 28 votes, Blueberry has 12 votes, and Grape has 37 votes.

There is still no majority vote, even after phase two of counting. Again the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, so Blueberry is dropped from the race. The 12 ballots marking Blueberry as first preference are revisited to account for the voter’s second preference. Out of those 12 voters, two marked Orange as their second preference and 10 marked Grape. Those votes are redistributed, so now Watermelon has 23 votes, Orange has 30 votes, and Grape has 47 votes.

What a close race! With still no clear winner, the 23 ballots with Watermelon marked as first preference are revisited as they are now eliminated. Out of those 23, 10 marked either Kiwi or Blueberry as their second preference, so the third preference is counted instead. Out of those 10, five marked Orange as their third preference and five marked Grape as their third preference. Those are added to the counts for Orange and Grape. The other 13 ballots have Grape marked as their second preference, which leaves Orange with 35 votes and Grape with 65 votes. Finally, a winner!