Commentary & Analysis

Bringing Freedom of Choice to Utah

In 2020, CES opened up our first ever Request for Proposals for groups seeking grants to run approval voting campaigns. This article is part of a series in which RFP applicants introduce themselves and explain why their community needs approval voting.


Author: Nate Allen, Utah Approves

When most people think of Utah they probably couldn’t even place it on a map. However, that doesn’t mean we’re not on the map for the fight to fix our electoral system.

Politically speaking, Utah has been long viewed as a safe red state. Most people might think of a red state as one that isn’t open to change. After all, red and conservative are often synonymous. What a lot of people might miss, though, is that we aren’t your typical red state. 

About half of our population does not register or vote Republican and the people who do are also open to common-sense changes that will make a difference in people’s lives. This may be because of the dominant value of responsibility here, or it may be because considering your neighbor is heavily emphasized in Utah communities. Whatever it is, it has opened up the path for us to discuss approval voting with our state leaders.

It just so happens that approval voting naturally checks the boxes of many concerns for Republicans. The chief of them being the cost of implementation shortly followed by how simple it is.

Approval voting works by asking voters to pick all of the candidates they’d be okay with being elected. Meaning you can pick all of your favorites—not just one. Then, whoever has the most votes wins. This wouldn’t require a change in ballots, new ballot-counting machines, or an overcomplicated method of picking a majority winner. 

A couple of years ago, Utah passed a bill that would allow cities to choose to run their elections using ranked choice voting (RCV) if they want. We are grateful that the path has been cleared for voting method discussion in our state, and we hope to broaden it by simply adding approval voting to this existing bill.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution in electoral reform, and we believe that cities in Utah deserve options. Communities should be able to choose the method that works best for them. That’s what we call freedom of choice—another important value to Utahns. 

Remember those other key values approval voting checks off? It’s easy to understand, free for cities to implement, and simple for election officials to administer. Those are significant practical considerations for many cities—particularly in a red state that values fiscal responsibility. If RCV can get passed here, we know approval voting can too. 

Even though approval voting is a relatively new suggestion, it’s making significant progress in being adopted in cities across the nation as communities recognize it as a simple, impactful way to improve their elections. Fargo, ND was the first city to enact it in 2018, and St. Louis, MO just became the second.

Here in Utah, we’re going for the whole state.

Ambitious? Maybe. But, as I said, the people of Utah are sensible people who appreciate common-sense reforms that are cost-effective.

Passing the option for cities to choose approval voting is only the first step toward showing the whole state how well it works, though. Our mission doesn’t stop when we get it passed. We still have lots of work to do with convincing cities to adopt it.

But we’re ready to work because we know that fixing our elections to truly represent the will of the people is the first step in fixing any major problem in our society.

Nate Allen
Utah Approves


CES wants to fund as many of these approval voting campaign proposals as possible in 2021. But that all depends on how much funding we’re able to bring in before the end of the year. Want to make sure the people of Utah get the freedom of choice they deserve? Make your gift today to support these local advocates.