A Wyoming legislative panel on Thursday voted to draft two bills that would introduce ranked-choice voting to Wyoming’s elections.

One would make Wyoming primaries ranked-choice, while the second would allow municipal elections to adopt the system on a trial basis.

The move comes amid a broader conversation about changes to Wyoming’s voting system. In the recent past, lawmakers have weighed whether to enact a primary run-off system, end crossover voting or institute a jungle primary, where all candidates regardless of party run in the same contest. Many of those proposed changes stem from the fact that one party — the Republicans — dominate Wyoming politics.

What would a ranked-choice system do? Generally speaking, it would have voters rank some or all candidates on the ballot. Each candidate gets one vote every time someone puts them down as their top choice.

If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, things get a little more complex.

The candidate who receives the least votes is eliminated from the race. As for voters that had that last-place candidate ranked first? Their votes now go to their second-choice candidate.

This carries on until one candidate has a majority vote.

Proponents of the model say that, because it gathers more information about how voters feel about each candidate, the system is more fair.

Both of the bills discussed Thursday by the Legislature’s Joint Corporations Committee would be modeled off of ranked-choice systems adopted by other states, lawmakers said.

One is Alaska’s new primary process, which made its debut Aug. 16.

Voters rank their top four choices, and the four candidates with the most votes proceed to the general election. The primaries are also nonpartisan; voters could choose to put a Republican first and a Democrat second on their ballots, for instance, regardless of who they’re registered to vote with.

The system does take longer to carry out: Alaska’s primary results won’t be finalized until the end of the month.

The other bill would allow Wyoming cities to opt into an experimental ranked-choice voting program for municipal elections, which are usually nonpartisan anyway. Utah launched such a program in 2019.

Ranked-choice voting would cost about $864,000 up front to implement in Wyoming, plus an additional $10,000 per county per election year, said Kai Schon, elections director for the Secretary of State’s Office, said at the meeting. That’s because the state would need to buy voting technology that’s federally certified to do it.

By comparison, implementing a runoff system could cost up to about $1 million per election year, Schon said.

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