SALT LAKE CITY — A bill state Democratic leaders have been hoping would at least see the light of day concerning straight party voting, was defeated in House committee Wednesday.
The measure would have removed the straight party option on November ballots, an option Democrats claim is a sizeable advantage for the Republican-controlled state. It died in committee 4-3. Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, was one of the people to vote the measure down and was described as the swing vote by a number of officials pushing the measure.
Utah is one of only 13 states to give voters a straight party option, and is the only state in the West where the choice is available. New Mexico removed that ballot option last year.
Sponsored by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, the bill generated more than an hour of debate and included testimony from a number of people who suggested the straight party ticket leads to confused voters who don’t know they can cross party lines, despite their party affiliation.
Approximately one-third of Utah voters used the option in the 2012 election, according to Justine Lee, of the Lt. Governor’s Office, which oversees state elections.
“I do struggle with how to vote on this. I’m thinking one-third of registered voters use this,” Perry said.
He said the trend may highlight the need to do a better job of educating local voters on how the election process works.
Roseann Mitchell, election director for Salt Lake County, urged lawmakers to eliminate the option. She said it would provide clarity for voters and simplify the process. She said she fielded a lot of calls from voters who are confused by the option, when the electronic ballots are filled in by one key punch.
Vik Arnold, an official from Utahan Ethical Government, urged support of the change. “More thought and more intention voting could do nothing but to improve the process in this democratically functioning state,” Arnold said.
“Having a straight party ticket creates an environment of lazy voters, who don’t know who they are voting for,” said Eric Ethington, managing editor of Utah Political Capitol.
Ethington said the option actually takes away the right of many people to vote in non-partisan races, such as school board races, because the candidates do not have a party affiliation on the ballot.
Ethington said Democrats have been trying to run the bill for seven or eight years and only once was the bill assigned to a committee, where it was never publicly brought up for debate.
In an interview last year, Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, told the Standard-Examiner he dislikes the straight party option.
“I’m opposed to straight party voting. I think voting is such an important civic responsibility and is such a sacrifice for candidates to put themselves out there, that both the voter and the candidate deserve to have each button pushed, even if you go down the line. Everyone deserves to have that moment of reflection in that capacity.”