In 2013, Representative Patrice Arent (Democrat – Millcreek) proposed a bill that would have abolished straight-ticket voting. That year, HB 258 – Straight Party Voting Amendments was voted down by the House Government Operations Committee on a 4-3 vote. Three years later, Arent is resurrecting her bill for another try.
Co-sponsored by Representative Jeremy Peterson (Republican – Ogden), HB 119 – Straight Ticket Voting Amendments amends provisions of the Election Code to provide that voters who wish to cast a vote for all candidates of the same political party must vote separately for each candidate. Arent has noted in the past that she feels straight ticket voting is an outdated process that needs to go the way of the dodo.
[pullquote]Straight ticket voting is easy, but is it the right thing for our Democracy? Rep. Arent feels a change needs to be made.[/pullquote]Indeed, straight ticket voting was very common in the United States until the 1960’s and 1970’s, eventually falling out of favor. Utah is only one of only nine states that still have it as an option. West Virginia and Michigan are the most recent defectors, having nixed the practice last year.
According to data from the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, 33 percent of all votes cast in the 2014 General Election were straight ticket. In the 2012 General Election, with significantly higher turnout than 2014, this number inched up to nearly 37 percent.
While straight ticket voting certainly makes it easier for voters to participate in an election, it is a common concern that these voters are not well educated on the issues and individual candidates – a clear disservice to the democratic process. In addition, having strait-ticket as an option can create the false assumption that a voter must participate in all elections on the ballot in order for their votes to count – meaning that people may be staying at home because they are concerned that they don’t know everything about every race. Furthermore, abolishing straight-ticket voting would also ensure that voters weigh in on all non-partisan candidates present on the ballot, including city and county council races, ballot propositions, constitutional amendments, and judicial elections.
Republicans opposed the bill in 2013 and it is expected they will do so again. Utah GOP Chair James Evans has already expressed his opposition, unsurprising considering that the majority party generally will benefit more from straight ticket voters in any particular election.
In an interview with Fox 13 earlier this month, he said that voters are educated and it would be wrong to remove the straight-party option if voters wish to support a candidate who has their values. If this were the case, however, one would have to wonder why he would be concerned with the abolishment of straight-party voting – after all, a truly educated individual would still know who they intended to vote for regardless of if they have to push one button or several as they make their way through the ballot.
Arent is right to push for this legislation, it strengthens our democracy and ensures that people are truly engaged in the process.
To contact Representative Arent, click here or call 801-889-7849 (Cell).
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