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House Committee Supports Bill To Repeal Straight-ticket Voting Option

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In her final year in the Utah legislature, District 36 Rep. Patrice Arent is making one last push to remove a small, but sometimes confusing, box at the top of voters’ ballots.

The Millcreek Democrat is sponsoring House Bill 70, which strikes state election code that allows Utahns to vote for all candidates from one political party without voting for the candidates individually. Arent originally proposed the bill in 2013 and has run it nearly every year after. Since that time, she says the straight-ticket option, combined with Utah’s vote-by-mail system, has created even more confusion among voters.

 

“When you’re at a machine, the machine can alert you—you've forgotten to vote for the judges, you've forgotten to vote for the constitutional amendments—it can alert you to all sorts of things," Arent said. "But a paper ballot doesn't do that.”

Arent explains HB 70 doesn’t keep people from voting for every candidate in their party; it just encourages them to check every item on their ballot. Arent says there are only five states besides Utah that have a straight-ticket, or straight-party, voting option. She also argues it will increase down-ballot participation.

The bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Craig Hall, is a Republican from West Valley. Hall says he’s polled his constituents on the issue, and more than 70% favor eliminating the straight-ticket option. Hall says it’s not a partisan issue.

“Democratic states have gotten rid of it, and Republican states have gotten rid of it, so this is the trend,” Hall said.

Summit County Clerk Kent Jones is familiar with the bill. Personally, he hasn’t heard confusion from voters, and his preference is to leave the straight-ticket option. Ricky Hatch, a representative from the Utah Association of Counties Clerk Legislative Committee spoke to the bill. He says voters often believe they’re changing their party affiliation by marking the box. Hatch says clerks receive many calls from voters with questions.

“What happens if I mark straight-party Democrat, but I want to vote for a Republican for a particular race—does that count?" Hatch said. "What happens to the constitutional amendments or judges, things of that nature. It's pretty high volume.”

Arent reiterated that no Western states have straight-ticket voting and that every state that has voted on this in the past 25 years has chosen to remove the option.

“We want thoughtful voters," Arent said. "We want voters who know who they're voting for, who just take a little time to look at the name. Think about it. They're at home with their ballot, they might even want to look up some information about that person, but if they're not looking at the names, it's a little harder.”

HB 70 passed the House Government Operations Committee Thursday on a seven-to-two vote. Last year, the same bill passed the House committee, full House and Senate committee before the session ended without time for the full Senate to hear it.

Emily Means hadn’t intended to be a journalist, but after two years of studying chemistry at the University of Utah, she found her fit in the school’s communication program. Diving headfirst into student media opportunities, Means worked as a host, producer and programming director for K-UTE Radio as well as a news writer and copy editor at The Daily Utah Chronicle.