By Trisha S. Beck
"It's archaic! It's outdated," declared a Republican state legislator from Michigan, which had in its 2001 legislative session eliminated its straight-party voting option. Less than a day before, I was going to present to the Utah Legislature proposed legislation to eliminate straight-party voting on Beehive State ballots.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, a single voter in some states might be asked to vote for upwards of 54 to 150 government officials. Thus, as voters were confronted with a large number of candidates, they often voted only for the candidates running for high-profile offices.
Consequently, because parties dominated politics and voters simply voted the party line, or did not bother to vote at all in low-profile offices, many states enacted statutes providing for single-action straight ticket voting. More than two-thirds of the states have now removed the straight-ticket option on their ballot; unfortunately, Utah is behind the curve with legislation to remove this option.
In 2002, when I sponsored legislation to eliminate straight-party voting in Utah, one of the reddest states in the nation, Utah Republicans had a host of arguments against it. One representative argued, "We're afraid people are ignorant or uniformed. Being ignorant is not a crime. I don't think we ought to limit people's choice in this area."
A problem is a number of voters who use this option do not complete the ballot; they neglect to vote in non-partisan races, such as the school board races and judges. Furthermore, those same voters often do not vote on propositions, referendums, initiatives and bond elections.
In the article "A Deeper Look," journalist Lawrence Reed expressed similar concerns. "If they ban the option then it encourages them to cast a more complete ballot and surely the cause of democracy is served. The right to vote is precious enough to be worth the effort of a thoughtful casting of votes race by race, issue by issue, candidate by candidate."
Unfortunately, when I asked one of the women who worked at the Utah County elections office what she thought about the straight-party option on the ballot, she remarked, "It's just easier. That way they [voters] don't have to become informed about the candidates."
I believe eliminating the straight-party vote option encourages more thoughtful voting. How can democracy work today if voters do not take the time to study the candidates and vote for the person, rather than the party?
Yes, like the representative from Michigan, I believe the option has outlived its purpose and is archaic and outdated. To become an informed voter, visit the website vote.utah.gov.
Trisha S. Beck is a former member of the Utah House of Representatives. She lives in Sandy.