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Lawmakers advance pilot program for ranked choice voting in nonpartisan city races

Head on shot of the Capitol from the "front side." A Golden dome rests atop the central tower of a grand sandstone building.
Wikimedia Commons - Bradlyons
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The Wyoming Capitol Building in Cheyenne. Lawmakers advanced a bill that could allow municipalities across the state to use ranked choice voting for non-partisan elections.

Cities could soon use ranked choice voting for non-partisan municipal elections if the State Legislature passes a bill advanced by the corporations committee Friday, Oct. 14.

The bill would establish a pilot program that cities would have to decide to join. The municipality would have to reimburse the county clerk's office for the cost of running the ranked choice election.

The committee advanced the bill on an 8-5 vote. It will have to be voted on during the next legislative session before it could go into effect.

Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank their choices of candidates. So, if your first choice doesn't have enough votes to win, your vote then goes to your second choice, and so on. This lets voters pick third party or independent candidates without feeling like they've "thrown away" their vote.

It removes the need to vote "strategically" by voting for the lesser of two evils.

But that could mean the Republican and Democratic party structures that currently enjoy dominance in the state could lose some power.

State GOP Executive Director Kathy Russell told the committee parties are important for coalition-building.

"If we remove the political parties, then we're down to fiefdoms," she said. "Which candidate are you going to support? That means you have to get to know every single candidate running."

While this specific bill would only allow ranked choice voting for nonpartisan races — such as Laramie's city council races or Meeteetse's mayoral race — Russell said it opened the door to more widespread use of ranked choice voting, which could cut down on the power of parties.

But Ken Chestek, a candidate for House District 13 in Laramie, said ranked choice voting cuts down on toxic political discourse.

"If you (as a candidate) don't make the first cut, you're going to want to have somebody have you ranked second," he said. "So, you're not going to be trying to offend all the other candidates and attack all the other candidates."

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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