Rep. Patrice Arent hopes to eliminate straight-ticket voting in Utah

Feb 5, 2019, 4:06 PM
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Just last week, an eager voter rushed up to Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City, in the grocery store. She was big supporter, she told Arent. In fact, she was so much behind her that she’d voted straight-ticket Republican just to make sure Arent got her vote.

It was a sweet gesture – but there was one problem. Patrice Arent isn’t a Republican. Her eager supporter, who was so sure she’d given Arent her vote, had voted against the Democrat without even realizing it.

She’s hardly the only person to have done it. In 2006, an independent party called the “Personal Choice Party” received 27,304 votes, almost all of which came from confused voters who thought they were pressing the button to opt-out of voting straight-ticket.

It’s stories like those that left Arent determined to get straight-ticket voting cut out of Utah, and this year, she thinks she can do it. She spoke with KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic to explain why she thinks this is the year Utah’s ballots will change.

Rep. Patrice Arent on straight-ticket voting

Dec. 27, 2016 file photo of Rep. Patrice Arent. (Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

Straight-ticket voting is a system that allowed voters who don’t want to go through every question on the ballot to simply choose their favorite political party and, with the press of a button, cast every vote in every question for that party.

In most of the nation, it isn’t allowed. Utah is one of only eight states that permit straight-ticket voting, and Arent says that there are good reasons why other states have gotten rid of the option.

For one thing, she says, voting straight-ticket leaves a lot of the boxes unchecked. Anyone who just votes straight-ticket and hands in their ballot won’t have cast a vote in any non-partisan races, propositions, or constitutional amendments.

Sometimes, she says, they might not even end up casting a vote in the very race that brought them out the ballot.

“Let’s say you vote straight-ticket and somebody from your party didn’t run in a certain race. You’ve actually skipped voting in that race,” Arent says. “And that happens a lot.”

Many, she says, check the straight-ticket box by mistake, confusing it for something else. She told Dave & Dujanovic: “There are people who say to me: ‘Oh, I had to mark that box because I’m a member of that party, so I’m required to mark that box.’”

Party members, of course, aren’t required to check the straight-ticket box. Any Republican party member has the right to cast some or all of their votes for Democratic candidates, just as Democratic members can vote for Republican candidates. If they check the straight-ticket box, however, they’ll be forfeiting that right.

Even when voters aren’t making mistakes, Arent still believes that straight-ticket voting causes problems just by pushing people into casting more votes toward the two major parties.

“There are other parties, too. Let’s mention that,” Arent says. “There aren’t just Democrats and Republicans.”

This isn’t the first time Arent has tried to get rid of straight-ticket voting. In 2016, she put forward a similar bill. It was shut down, however, after the chairman of the Republican Party spoke out against it. All but a few Republicans followed their chairman’s lead and voted “no”.

This time around, however, Arent believes that things are going to be different.

“I’m optimistic,” Arent says. “I’ve had some Republicans come to me and say they’re supportive of doing this.”

That bi-partisan support is exactly what she’ll need to get her bill to pass. This time around, however, she has a better chance of getting it. Her bill is co-sponsored by a Republican: State Senator Curtis S. Bramble.

Arent’s bill received its first reading in the House today. Stayed tuned to KSL Newsradio for updates as the bill moves through the legislature.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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Rep. Patrice Arent hopes to eliminate straight-ticket voting in Utah