GOP alters vote method
By Bob Bernick,
May 8, 2002
Republicans may be conservative, but they aren't afraid of change -
at least when it comes to a new way of voting.
At Saturday's state
Republican Convention, the 3,480 delegates will vote in the three
U.S. House races using what's known as a preferential ballot.
Delegates in the House races will pick, on a single ballot,
candidates as their first, second, third choices and so on down the
In the case of the packed 2nd District race, they will
actually rank - if they so chose - 12 candidates.
In the first
round of counting, the candidate with the fewest number of ballots
listing him as the delegates' first choice is eliminated. Those
ballots are redistributed to the candidates who are those delegates'
second preferences. The counting/elimination process continues, and
if at any time one candidate gets 60 percent of the vote he is
declared the nominee. After the last round of counting, two
candidates will remain. If one has 60 percent of the vote, he's the
nominee. Otherwise those last two candidates go to a June 25
The fact that candidates know they face a preferential
ballot has resulted in more gentlemanly campaigning, believes GOP
state executive director Scott Simpson.
"Everyone wants to be
ranked first, of course. But it is also very important to be ranked
second, third, or ranked as high as you can be," he says.
candidates are timid about criticizing any other candidate, for if
you bad-mouth a candidate to a delegate who may be putting that
candidate first, the delegate is not likely to put you second, or
third, or fourth. He may not vote for you at all, in any ranking,
which is also allowed, said Simpson.
When the National Rifle
Association sent out a letter to all 1st District delegates
criticizing candidate Rep. Kevin Garn on one of his state House
votes, candidate Rob Bishop, a gun-rights lobbyist, quickly and
firmly distanced himself from the letter. "You could see by Bishop's
reaction to the NRA letter" that candidates are worried about being
tagged with negative campaigning in combination with the
preferential ballot, said Simpson.
In any case, while preferential
voting has been used in some county party races before, this will be
the first time it will be used in a major party state convention.
It's the wave of the future, some say. And it's possible you could
see such voting in municipal or other races over the next 10 years.
Preferential balloting, used in Australia for years, has a number
of advantages, proponents say. The system, depending on how its
used, could save taxpayers the cost of a primary election (which
ranges from $600,000 to $800,000 statewide in Utah). And, some
argue, it gives middle-of-the-road candidates in a big candidate
field a better shot at winning. For example, a number of political
observers believe Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson sits in office
today because in the 2001 city primary election two moderates - Dave
Jones and Jim Bradley - split the moderate vote, letting Anderson, a
more liberal candidate, and Stuart Reid, the more conservative
candidate, take first and second place. In the final election,
Anderson drew more of the Jones/Bradley support and topped Reid. A
preferential primary ballot may have advanced Jones or Bradley into
a final election against Anderson or Reid, and a more moderate
candidate may have won the mayoralship.
Going low-tech and
low-cost, state GOP leaders decided not to spend $30,000 to have a
professional voting firm handle the preferential balloting Saturday,
or spend the time and money to re- program punch-card vote counting
machines. Instead, "we're doing this in-house and manually," says
Simpson. Ballots will be hand counted each round, with candidates'
poll watchers making sure everything is proper, said Simpson.
Second District candidate Steve Harmsen, a Salt Lake County
Councilman who has stood for election off and on for 30 years,
thinks the new balloting is the right way to go. "I like it. But
people have to understand that, given 12 candidates (in the 2nd
District), it's highly unlikely a delegate's first choice will come
out of the convention. It could be a delegate's 2nd or 3rd choice
that comes out," says Harmsen. "I understand how they are going to
count the ballots. They have their act together. I think it will work."