Utah bill would end straight-ticket voting
February 24, 2019
Utah could join the majority of states across the county that have banned straight-party voting if a bill to do so passes after similar attempts failed to gain enough support in 2013 and 2016.
The earlier bills, which also sought to end a voter's ability to select candidates running under one party's banner by marking a single box on the ballot, stalled in the Utah House of Representatives when committees narrowly voted them down. Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, is sponsoring this year's measure, H.B. 259.
"This is my third time running this bill, but I'm optimistic it can pass," she said. "The last time we ran this there were still 12 states that had this. Now, it is less than 10. We are one of the few Western states to allow this and if we don't pass it we may be one of the last."
Many have argued that straight-party voting contributes to an uninformed electorate because voters are not considering each candidate based on their merits. Arent said down-ballot non-partisan races are also often skipped when voters select the straight-ticket box. She said it leads to confusion.
"People think they have to mark that box to identify which party they are affiliated with," she said. "So many people will call the clerk's office in a panic after they have mailed in their ballot asking if they made a mistake."
Arent said she has spoken with county clerks across the state who have experienced this and she has their support.
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"Some people may think it is faster and easier, but they may be missing other races," she said.
According to vote totals, 6,668 straight party votes were cast in Summit County during the 2018 election, with 3,711 selecting Democrats and 2,451 choosing Republicans.
Brantley Eason, the chair of the Summit County Republican Party, said he generally supports the measure. However, he thinks some races may not get as many votes.
"People tend to vote at the top of the ticket and down-ballot races don't get as many votes so straight-ticket voting tends to help people out," he said. "But, I would hope that you would see more people getting a little more informed about the people at the bottom of the ballot."
The bill would require people to individually select candidates in each race. Eason said that is easier now that most of the state has switched to a mail-in ballot system. It gives people more time to research the candidates, he said.
Eason said he could see how an end to straight-party voting may affect Republican candidates in certain pockets across the state. But, he suspects it would even out.
"There will also be certain districts where it hurts the Democratic candidates as well," he said. "But, overall, I think it is good to see that we are moving away from that."
Kellie Robinson, Summit County's chief deputy clerk, said the bill wouldn't affect how the Clerk's Office tallies votes.
"I see how it makes it easier for some people if they just want to vote for their party, but you do see that where people don't look at anything else," she said. "If this passes, this wouldn't affect what we do right now because our scanner will recognize it either way."
The House Government Operations Committee narrowly gave the bill a favorable recommendation on Wednesday, 6-5. The measure will now be heard in the full House.
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