Straight Ticket Bill Dies, Move Supported by GOP Head

Representative Patrice Arent (Democrat - Millcreek)
Representative Patrice Arent (Democrat – Millcreek)

A proposal to abolish straight-ticket voting in Utah was shot down by the House Government Operations Committee Tuesday.

This is Arent’s second attempt to pass such legislation. In 2013, she proposed HB 258 – Straight Party Voting Amendments, which was voted down by Gov Ops on a 4-3 vote. It was defeated this time by an even larger margin: 4-6.

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.

Utah is only one of only nine states that still have straight-ticket voting as an option. 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.

Arent said that straight ticket voting can be confusing for some voters. She cited an example of when the Personal Choice Party received 14 percent of the vote in Salt Lake County in the 2006 General Election.

Peterson believes it will force political parties to run better candidates and lead voters to make more educated choices. “It will energize the parties because the parties have sort of depended on straight ticket voting to a certain degree. They’ve leaned on that. This will energize them to get their message out, to recruit better-quality candidates that the voters can deliberate between. It will provide for more marketing and greater discourse among the public on the issues, on the candidates themselves and their qualifications. I believe it creates an environment where it encourages voters to make that conscientious choice and to make a more educated choice,” said Peterson.

Representatives from the League of Women Voters of Utah and the Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office Election Division also spoke in favor of the bill.

James Evans, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, opposes the measure. He contends that there is no hard evidence that straight ticket voting causes confusion. “It’s important that we not take a convenience away from voters because they identify with a political party and penalize them,” said Evans.

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