‘This is an outdated method’; Bill repealing straight ticket voting heads to Senate

Voting machines set up at the Washington County Administration Building during a primary election, Aug. 15, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Straight ticket voting in Utah could become a thing of the past if a bill long pursued by Democratic Rep. Patrice Arent passes its final huddle on the way to the governor’s desk.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, speaking on the House floor of the Utah Legislature, Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 13, 2020 | Photo courtesy of the Utah Legislature, St. George News

Since 2013, Arent, who represents the Millcreek area of northern Utah, has sought to do away with straight party ticket voting on Utah ballots. Prior attempts have not fared well in the Legislature, yet this year it stands poised to potentially pass.

HB 70, Repeal of Single-Mark Straight Ticket Voting passed the Utah House last month and passed a Senate committee Tuesday with a favorable recommendation.

“This bill eliminates the one box that you see on the ballot that allows you to vote for everyone in one party,” Arent said of HB 70 while discussing it on the House floor last month. “This is an outdated method, particularly in Utah where we’re using vote by mail ballots.”

Confusion over straight party voting is a common issue brought before county clerks, Arent said, and read a part of a letter from Weber County Clerk/Auditor Ricky Hatch to the Senate committee Tuesday.

Hatch, who heads an association of county clerks legislative committee, wrote, “When it comes to voter confusion, straight ticket voting is one of the main culprits, prompting more voter questions than perhaps any other subject.”

Some of the issues that Hatch noted relate to voters wondering if they have to vote straight party because it’s at the top of the ballot, while other voters wonder if marking the box will change their party affiliation. Still others think it will fill out the entirely of the ballot, including state constitutional amendments, local judge retentions and nonpartisan races like the state school board.

Someone who votes third party and marks the straight party ticket box may only be voting for a small number of races as third party candidates aren’t always involved in certain races.

A mail-in ballot gets turned in at the dropbox at the Washington County Administration Building, St. George, Utah, November 2016 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

With mail-in ballots, there’s also no machine to tell you that you’ve left some votes unmarked, Arent said.

“When people have a paper ballot, they often check off the box and think they are done,” she said.

Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, who co-sponsored the bill, echoed the argument that straight party voting could confuse voters and leave parts of the ballot unmarked.

“They won’t vote on other issues,” Brooks said.

Eliminating straight ticket voting may also encourage people to learn more about the candidates, Arent said, resulting in more informed voters who know who their representatives are.

However, Rep. Travis Seegmiller, who voted against the bill in February, wasn’t convinced the measure was needed and actually limited a voter’s choice.

“The argument was made that people who vote straight ticket are not educated or are somehow less informed or ill-informed. I reject that ridiculous notion,” Seegmiller said in a text to St. George News Tuesday. “Very many good, smart and wise people choose to vote the straight ticket method. Furthermore, removing the straight ticket option actually reduces the voting options available to citizens. It makes no sense for the Legislature to reduce the number of voting options available to the citizens we represent.”

When the bill passed the House last month, among its supports from Southern Utah were Reps. Brooks, Lowry Snow and Rex Shipp. Reps. Phil Lyman and Seegmiller voted against the bill. Rep. Brad Last did not vote on HB 70 due to being absent from the House at the time.

Arent’s bill passed the Senate committee unanimously Tuesday, and it now goes to the Senate floor for consideration.

For a complete list of contacts for Southern Utah representatives and senators, click here.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2020 Utah Legislature here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!