Is it time to scrap straight-ticket voting in Utah?

Feb 17, 2020, 5:11 PM | Updated: 5:12 pm
straight-ticket voting...
The straight-party voting option on a 2012 Utah election ballot. (KSL)

SALT LAKE CITY — Should Utah join 43 other states and end single-mark straight-ticket voting (STV) or is it better for Utah voters to hold on to that option?

Jay Evenson of the Deseret News joined Lee on Live Mic to argue that it’s time to ditch STV. The newspaper outlines the reason it should be eliminated in a recent opinion piece.

But Orem Rep. Brad Daw, a Republican, says there’s no good reason to dump it.

Rep. Patrice Arent, a Democrat, and Sen. Curt Bramble, a Republican, are sponsoring bill HB70, which would eliminate STV on state ballots.

On one side: straight-ticketing voting is an obsolete practice

Evenson says straight-ticket voting is an anachronism that harkens back to the 19th century when party bosses would round up the vote.

In the old days, Evenson said, “If you didn’t vote the right way, you’d lose your job.”

If the box at the top of the ballot is eliminated, Evenson pointed out that a voter can still vote a straight-party ticket by going through the entire ballot and selecting the party representative for each race. It just takes a little longer than a single-mark straight-party vote.

Evenson says STV is also causing confusion.

“When I talk to county clerks, they say this is No.1 thing during an election year they get phone calls on.

“Some people think when you check that box it just means, ‘Oh, I’m declaring that I’m a Republican or that I’m a Democrat,’ and that is their way of registering with the party, which it’s not.

“And then those people will . . . maybe mark a split-ticket ballot and destroy their whole ballot. It will be invalidated,” he said.

Evenson added that further down the ballot are the nonpartisan questions, such as school-board races, judicial-retention elections or propositions and constitutional amendments.

“A lot of people, when they check that box for the straight-party figure, they’re done. And they don’t go down and vote for these other races and ballot initiatives,” Evenson said.

He added that most of the voting in Utah is done by mail, which affords the voter time to research the candidates, races and initiatives.

“People ought to be doing that. Rather than checking a box and saying, ‘I voted, I’m done,’ ” he said.

Lee pointed out that longer wait times at the polls may lead to voters walking away and not voting at all.

“You have to ask yourself,” Evenson said. “What’s more important, doing it quickly or doing it thoughtfully?”

On the other side: straight-ticket voting should stay the course

Lee asked an opponent of HB70, Republican Rep. Brad Daw of Orem, why he was one of the two “no” votes on the House Government Operations Committee, which passed it on a 7-2 vote.

“I see no reason not to give voters that option,” Daw said on Live Mic. “We’ve always done it. It’s never been a problem. I don’t see that this solves anything by doing away with it.”

What about the nonpartisan choices down-ballot, such as initiatives and school-board selections? Lee asked Daw.

“If a voter isn’t going to look down the ballot, we got bigger issues than whether or not that box is at the top,” he responded.

“Thinking that we’re going to somehow change voter behavior dramatically by removing a box, I think is kidding ourselves.

“If we acknowledge there’s a problem, then maybe we should really look at solving the problem instead of pretending we actually did something worthwhile,” Daw said.

Lee asked Daw why Utah shouldn’t abolish the STV option when most states have.

“It doesn’t solve any underlying issues,” Daw said, adding the real challenge is getting voters to take the time to research the issues and candidates.

Despite his “no” vote in committee, Daw thinks the bill has a good chance of passing.

Related story:

Patricia Arent, a long-serving Democrat, is retiring

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.

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Is it time to scrap straight-ticket voting in Utah?