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Matheson: End straight party voting
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In the wake of the 2012 elections, one thing is abundantly clear: Average American voters are sick and tired of bickering and gridlock in our political system. They are fed up with political brinkmanship and partisan agendas.

They want leadership from a new age of statesmen and women, and they want progress and problem solving — the kind that has made our nation's greatest achievements possible. And most importantly, they want it now.

Voters are registering as independents in record numbers. These citizens are expressing their disdain with the current political dialogue by leaving the ranks of the Democratic and Republican parties, or foregoing them altogether. They are rejecting the lock-step mentality of partisan organizations in favor of forming their own opinions and making informed decisions.

I hear this sentiment every day from constituents, and frankly, I share their frustrations with business as usual in Congress. These are extraordinary times where so much must, and can, be accomplished to put our country on a solid path forward. And I am proud to serve in a representative government where each elected official swears to uphold the public trust and bears this responsibility to those who elect them, not to a political party.

The time is now to work together, to break down barriers, to put forward solutions and to encourage collaboration. The challenges we face are very complicated, so they cannot be solved overnight and they cannot be solved when only two points of view from the two parties are considered.

But, as with any task worth undertaking, the place to start is by identifying a part of the problem and beginning the task of making it right.

That is why earlier this week I, along with my Republican colleague Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, introduced the People Before Party Act of 2013, a bipartisan bill that would end the practice of straight-party ticket voting in federal elections.

If one of our goals is to have a less polarized legislative process where we can get things accomplished, I think a good place to start is by selecting our elected officials because of who they are and what they have done, not just by their party affiliation. It seems pretty common sense to me — a vote should be cast for an individual, not for a party. For each race, select the most qualified person to do the job and pick them on their merits, just the same way workers are hired all over our country.

Specifically, my bill prevents straight party voting in federal races, which include president, Senate and House. There are only 15 states that continue to allow voting a straight-party ticket. Studies show that making a change to this practice would encourage voters to be more aware when filling out their ballot. Additionally, it increases voter participation for non-partisan positions like state school board or judicial races, which are often overlooked when a voter votes a straight ticket.

When their ballot is complete, citizens may still have selected all Republican or all Democratic candidates. But I believe today's majority of American voters want to make the decision for themselves for each race on the ballot. What's more, I believe that the American voter is capable, informed and thoughtful and I want to do all I can to empower that spirit.

Creating a more engaged political process is not only the right thing to do, it will also mitigate the partisan bickering that overwhelms our politics today. It is a simple concept, and it isn't a new one — put people before party. Sometimes, a start to solving the big problems isn't that hard to find.

Jim Matheson is a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Utah's 4th Congressional District.

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