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The vice chairman of Utah Republican Party wants state lawmakers to study an "instant runoff voting" system that he says could prevent third-party candidates from "spoiling" elections.

Lowell Nelson told the Legislature's Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee Wednesday that such systems allow voters to list their second choice among candidates, as well as their favorite.

If no candidate receives a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Voters who had supported that eliminated candidate would then have their "second-choice" votes given to remaining candidates to help one of them achieve a majority.

Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright said the state party has taken no position on instant runoff voting, and that Nelson is promoting that on his own. Nelson said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, was interested in the idea, and asked him to make a presentation about it.

Nelson said the GOP lost 10 U.S. Senate elections nationally since 1998 to Democrats who won with less-than-majority pluralities after third-party candidates may have siphoned away votes from Republicans, and said "instant runoff voting" would prevent such occurrences.

But Scott Hogensen, the chief deputy clerk-auditor in Utah County, representing county clerks statewide, told the committee that current voting machines are not certified to allow such voting. He said such a voting system likely would require replacing current machines, which cost $26 million when they were purchased in 2005.

Nelson said if the state went to such a system sometime in the future, it could also allow parties to have three candidates in primary elections — instead of two — to increase choices but still ensure that someone would achieve a majority.

Also, the system could more easily allow multidistrict seats used in some states, where several people compete for multiple seats in one geographical district.