Utah lawmaker hopes to end straight-ticket voting — which may have helped elect Ben McAdams this year

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Christine Durham listen as Rep. Patrice Arent praises her as House of Representatives honored former Utah Chief Justice Christine Durham, Thursday, February 1, 2018.

This year in Salt Lake County, more than 127,000 people voted a straight-party ticket — meaning they marked just one box on a ballot to cast votes for all candidates running under one party’s banner.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, wants to end that, calling it an archaic process that most states outlaw — even though it may have helped her party in Salt Lake County this year, and may have helped Democrat Ben McAdams unseat GOP Rep. Mia Love.

Still, Utah Democrats have argued for years that allowing straight-party voting hurts them in the heavily Republican state because it allows voters to cast ballots for the party instead of individual candidates.

“Straight-ticket voting denies good candidates in both parties the opportunity to receive fair consideration by voters,” Arent said, as she announced plans to draft legislation to end the practice.

“If we want voters to be educated and hold their elected officials responsible, we ought to encourage them to learn about the candidates they are voting for and not just paint all candidates with a single partisan brush on Election Day.”

She added, “After an election that saw an unprecedented interest for a midterm, now is the time to move past this outdated voting practice. Forty-two other states do not allow straight-ticket voting. It’s time that Utah joined them."

Arent ran similar bills in 2013 and 2016, where committees voted down the bills on close votes.

Election reports this year show that 65,761 Democrats in Salt Lake County voted a straight-party ticket, compared to 51,667 Republicans. Some 9,682 members of minor parties also checked the straight-ticket box.

That may have helped McAdams carry Salt Lake County by 54-45 percent margin, and 20,012 votes. He needed that lead there to counter Love’s wide margins of support in Utah, Sanpete and Juab counties — and squeeze out a 694-vote win.

On the other hand, of the 50,000 straight-party voters in Utah County, 40,000 were Republican.

Straight-ticket voting may also have helped Democrats win several other Salt Lake County races — including wins by Democratic Sheriff Rosie Rivera, District Attorney Sim Gill and County Recorder-elect Rashelle Hobbs.

Such Democratic success in Salt Lake County — including helping to elect McAdams — might give Republicans reason finally to support Arent’s bill.