Bill proposes to end straight-ticket voting for federal races

ST. GEORGE – Currently Utah is one of 15 states that allows for straight-ticket voting for all levels of government. However, if a new bill proposed by Utah Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson is passed by Congress, straight-ticket voting for federal offices would be eliminated.

Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, representing the  4th Congressional District | Image courtesy of the Office of Rep. Jim Matheson
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, representing the 4th Congressional District | Image courtesy of the Office of Rep. Jim Matheson

Matheson joined with Republican Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and introduced HR 936, or the People Before Party Act of 2013, in the House of Representatives on March 4. The intended purpose of the bill is to “reduce the role of partisanship in the voting process,” according to a statement from Matheson’s office.

“Specifically, the Matheson-Dent bill would end the practice of straight-ticket voting in federal elections, a practice that too often discourages voters from evaluating each candidate based on individual qualifications and forces them into an all-or-nothing decision based on party affiliation alone,” the statement reads.

By not being able to mark a single box that would encompass the entirety of a voter’s choices, the bill’s sponsors hope to encourage “thoughtful and complete voting participation” in non-partisan elections as well, like judicial positions and ballot initiatives that may otherwise be left unnoticed are untouched.

According to Matheson’s office, “Both types of elections are often overlooked on party-prioritized ballots.”

Rep. Dent said: “Voting is one of the most important rights and responsibilities of any American citizen. This legislation will promote thoughtful decision making in the voting booth by ensuring that ballots are designed to ask voters to select an individual candidate rather than a political party.”

Local reaction to the bill has been mixed. Some voices are optimistic, while others see little value in it.

Dorothy Engelman, chair of the Washington County Democratic Party, supports the concept behind the bill, as it may lead to voters looking more at the individuals running for public office, rather than their party affiliation.

“It levels the playing field for all candidates,” she said, and added the bill could also give third party candidates a better chance in elections too.

However, Dave Seely, a former congressional candidate on the Libertarian ticket, isn’t so sure.

Even if the straight-ticket option for federal elections is taken away, he said, what’s to stop voters from selecting candidates based on party alone?

“What’s the difference?” Seely said.

Seely’s sentiments are echoed by Willie Billings, the chair of Washington County’s Republican Party. “I don’t think (the bill) has any teeth,” he said.

Billings said the people should have the right to vote straight-ticket if they want to, and that the government should “quit trying to legislate voting.”

“It’s not going to make people study the candidates more,” he added. “I don’t see it making a difference.”

Still, Matheson believes the bill will help reduce the role of partisanship in the voting process.

“Everywhere I go, people tell me how frustrated they are with the partisan bickering that overwhelms our politics today. This legislation is one step we can take to reduce the role of parties in our elections and encourage everyone to vote for candidates for each federal office by voting the person, not the party,” Matheson said.

While the Matheson-Dent bill would only apply to federal elections, and would have no affect on state and local races, attempts have been made in the past to eliminate straight- ticket voting within the state.

The most recent attempt was made by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City. Her bill, HB 258, was shot down by a House committee on Jan. 30.

Currently, only 15 states in the country still allow straight-ticket voting. These states include: Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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