Utah is one of only 15 states that allow people to vote a straight ticket, meaning that they can choose a single party's entire slate of candidates by making a single mark on the ballot. Or, in the age of digital voting machines, by touching a single icon on the screen. Other states have abandoned the straight-party option as an anachronism. Utah should, too.
Voting a straight ticket is the lazy way to exercise the right to vote. If a voter must work through the entire ballot, office by office, he or she might discover a name or remember something that would inform his or her choice. If voters knew that a straight-party option was not available, they might spend a bit more time preparing before they go to the polls or fill out a mail-in ballot.
People who defend the straight ticket sometimes argue that it gives them confidence they are voting for candidates who share their political views and ideology. That, after all, is what parties are for.
But eliminating the straight-party option on the ballot would not damage in any way a voter's right to choose a straight ticket. That choice still would be available, one race at a time.
People in Utah might assume that the straight-party option would favor Republicans. In Salt Lake County, that's not the case. In the 2008 election, 51 percent of the voters who selected a straight ticket were Democrats. About 47 percent were Republicans. In the state's most populous county, then, the straight-party option doesn't seem to favor either party very much.
In the 2008 presidential election, about 37 percent of Salt Lake County voters chose the straight-ticket option. In 2004, the fraction was about 40 percent.
There is a down side to straight-party voting, however. A voter who chooses the straight-party option on a paper, mail-in ballot might accidentally ignore the rest of the races, including nonpartisan offices (such a school boards), judicial retentions, constitutional amendments, propositions and bond issues. That's not a great risk on electronic voting machines, because they prompt the voter to "continue" to the next part of the ballot. But paper, mail-in ballots now represent about 30 percent of active registered voters in Salt Lake County, and that percentage is likely to grow as more people choose to vote by mail.
Because the straight-party option does not currently favor either major party in Utah's most populous county, now would be an excellent time for the Legislature to get rid of it. There's no better time for bipartisan action.