This may be the year the Utah Legislature does away with straight party-line voting on ballots – and if it is, you can probably thank Salt Lake County voters.
For the third time, state Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, has introduced a bill to do away with straight-ticket voting – where a voter checks one box at the top of his or her ballot and votes for ALL Republicans, or ALL Democrats or candidates in some minor party all the way down the ballot in the process.
You can read HB259 here.
In 2018, Democrats swept many offices in Salt Lake County, knocking out some GOP incumbents along the way.
Numbers generated by UtahPolicy.com show:
Countywide, 65,761 people voted straight-ticket Democratic, while only 51,607 voted straight-ticket Republican.
It may very well have been such Democratic straight-ticket voting that doomed former GOP U.S. House Rep. Mia Love – for she lost to Democrat Ben McAdams by fewer than 700 votes in the 4th Congressional District, which is mostly located in the county.
So, in short, while many heavily Republican areas outside of Salt Lake County may be helped by straight-ticket voting, it’s clear the dominant party in Utah is being hurt inside the largest county in the state – and that’s got to sting. Several Republicans in the legislature say there is momentum this year to do away with the straight-ticket voting provision in state law precicely because of the difficulty encountered by Republican candidates in Salt Lake County.
In fact, as part of the GOP’s plan to do better in Salt Lake County, party bosses would be smart to do away with straight-ticket voting – as they are clearly losing that battle in that county.
Arent, who knows the internal politics of the GOP-controlled Legislature very well, is not pushing the 2018 Salt Lake County blitz – certainly not throwing it up into her Republican colleagues’ faces.
The real reason she’s running this bill again, she told UtahPolicy.com, is that Utah is one of the last states in the nation that allows straight-ticket voting.
Texas has recently done away with it – a very red state. And so have many other GOP-dominated states. Utah is one of 8 states that still allow straight-ticket ballots.
But, says Arent, straight-ticket voting is bad for many reasons, besides partisan feelings.
“There seems to be a lot of confusion” with just checking one box at the top of the ballot and then leaving the voting booth.
“Just last week, at Dan’s food store, a women came up to me and said she checked the Republican Party (straight-ticket) box, but then said she voted for me. Well, she didn’t.”
She actually voted for Arent’s GOP opponent in the House 36 District race.
Some people registered as either a Democrat or a Republican think that they MUST check the party box – but really want to vote cross party down the ballot.
Of course, some straight-ticket voters don’t bother to look down ballot, and so aren’t voting in important proposition and constitutional amendment choices.
And they aren’t voting to retain nonpartisan judges, either, whose names are at the bottom of the ballot.
All in all, straight-ticket voting is just a bad idea whose time has come to get rid of, says Arent.
“I think it is important that (voters) look at your name, see who they are voting for, see what (proposition) they are voting for.”
While Salt Lake County went Democratic in 2018, Arent notes that there twice as many registered Republicans in her House district than are registered Democrats.
So simple numbers show she may not be helping herself in doing away with straight-ticket voting.
“But it is the right thing to do” – even if Republicans in Salt Lake County were swallowed up in straight-ticket voting last year.
Arent said the last time she ran the bill – and it failed – she got support from several GOP House members who were barely winning re-election in swing districts.
And she said one GOP lawmaker told her he wanted to run a repeal of straight-ticket voting in this session. She’s invited him to co-sponsor her bill, but hasn’t heard back from him yet.