Three years ago, an effort to end straight-ticket voting in Utah was defeated in the House Government Operations Committee, falling by a 4-3 vote. That bill’s sponsor, Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City is trying again this year with House Bill 119, Straight Ticket Voting Amendments.
And the bill will return to the same committee that once killed it. On Tuesday, Feb. 2, the House Government Operations Committee will decide if the latest effort to end straight-ticket voting makes it to the floor. And Arent has a Republican co-sponsor to help move it forward.
Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden says he’s working to persuade colleagues to support HB119. “The committee members individually have been very receptive to the reasons for bringing this issue forward. I look forward to making the case at the committee meeting,” Peterson said.
• RELATED: HB 119: Straight Ticket Voting Amendments
Straight-ticket voting allows an individual to vote once to elect the entire slate of a party’s candidates. Utah is one of nine states that allow straight-ticket voting. According to Utah Political Capitol, an online newsletter, 33 percent of Utah voters chose straight ticket in 2014, and 37 percent in 2012.
HB119 reads in part: “... a voter who desires to cast a vote for all candidates from one political party must vote separately for each candidate from that political party ...”
“The problem with voting straight ticket is that it causes a lot of confusion,” Arent said. She’s heard from constituents who don’t realize that they need to vote in non-partisan races or ballot initiatives. That causes an individual’s vote to count for much less than it should.
Arent is also optimistic the bill will pass committee, arguing that straight-ticket voting is a relic from the past that Utah should get rid of. “None of the Western states have straight-ticket voting (anymore),” she said, adding that Michigan, under a Republican-sponsored bill, was the latest to end the practice.
A THREAT TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
If Utah was to end its straight-ticket vote option, it will take away a voter’s freedom of expression, says Noall Knighton, chairman of the Republican Party of Weber County. “If anyone wants to not vote a straight ticket, they can do that,” he said. It’s wrong to lessen the alternatives a voter has, Knighton maintains.
However, Arent counters that the rise in voting by mail is another reason to end straight-ticket voting. At the voting booth, a voter is prompted if they make a mistake. At home, they don’t have that luxury. If a mistake is made, adds Arent, “you may end up voting for nobody in a race.” In precincts dominated by one party, she explains, voters for the minority may vote straight ticket, not realizing that the party they voted for has no candidate in the race.
Knighton doesn’t agree that voters have less resources casting ballots at home. He says that those voting at home have many resources, including the Internet, the local newspaper, the county elections office, and local municipalities. “At the voting booth they have nothing,” he said.
For Peterson, the bill has a bipartisan advantage. “It is not everyday that a Republican and Democrat come together to work on issues. However, this bill transcends partisan interests and will improve the quality of debate and civic discourse for all participants in our political process,” he said.