Bob Bernick Jr.: Preferential voting makes for kinder race

Published: Friday, April 16 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

In three weeks 3,500 state Republican Party delegates will gather in the South Towne Center in Sandy to hear speeches and vote on the nine GOP candidates for governor this year.

Second and 3rd District delegates will also vote for multiple candidates in those races, too.

For the second time, state GOP officials will be using a multiple-vote system called a preferential ballot.

Each delegate will get a ballot listing all the candidates. And a delegate will put one name as a first preference, another as second and so on down the ballot. The ballot is then scanned into a computer, and different rounds of voting take place.

In the first round, the last-place finisher is dropped off, and his name isn't counted again. So if you were placed second on that ballot, you would now get another first-place vote.

The second round is counted and so on. If in any round, one candidate gets 60 percent of the delegate vote, then he or she is the party's nominee, avoiding a primary.

Most believe in the governor's race, crowded with a number of good candidates, that won't happen.

In the final round of voting, then, the third-place person will be dropped off and the top two vote-getters will go to the June 22 primary.

State Republicans used preferential voting for the first time in 2002 convention. And most people liked it.

Under the old multiple ballot approach (still used by Democrats), delegates had to cast a new ballot in each round. That took a lot of time at the one-day conventions, which usually start at 9 a.m. and finish well into the afternoon.

And in 2002 there were 12 GOP candidates in the 2nd Congressional District. So it would have taken a dozen separate ballots to whittle down the field. It could have taken hours, and no doubt a number of delegates would have gotten sick of waiting around between ballots, counting and announcements, and left.

In some large-candidate fields in past conventions, it was a battle of attrition.

In 1996, Merrill Cook barely survived several rounds of balloting in the 2nd District. He made it into the primary by something like 16 votes, won the primary and won a seat in Congress. If 16 staunch Cook delegates had gone home early, he would have been eliminated.

The one-ballot preferential voting does away with multiple ballot delays.

Theoretically, state GOP leaders could run all the ballots through the computer, make the per-round calculations, and walk out and announce the two winners. In the past, the leaders have walked to the podium and announced each round. More reality TV tension and anticipation that way, I suppose.

In any case, preferential balloting is changing how candidates in big races, with a lot of challengers, campaign, several campaign managers tell me.

"It leads to a kindlier, gentler campaigning," said one manager. "That's because it's important that you are No. 2 on a ballot, because the guy listed as No. 1 could be eliminated before you and you then pick up his vote" in subsequent rounds of balloting, he said.

One example: Former U.S. Rep. Jim Hansen is showing well in several southern Utah counties, some campaign insiders say. Hansen represented the area for years in his 1st Congressional District, stood up to federal government public land bureaucrats, etc.

"In some of those southern counties, my guy is satisfied being second on the ballot to Hansen," says one manager. This guy's camp assumes Hansen will drop out of the counting at some point, and so a second place on that ballot will become a first place vote. (Hansen, of course, believes he won't be eliminated in early rounds of ballot counting but will finish first or second.)

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