Bill to end straight-ticket voting in Utah earns committee approval

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, who is not seeking reelection this year, speaks with colleagues during the first day of the session at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Monday, Jan. 26.

A bill ending the option of a straight-ticket ballot, in which Utah voters can support all the candidates from a political party with a single vote, earned the approval of a legislative panel on Thursday.

Members of the House Government Operations Committee voted 7-2 for HB70, which is sponsored by Millcreek Democratic Rep. Patrice Arent.

Arent, who for years has attempted to run similar legislation, said her proposal would not stop a voter from casting their votes for all the candidates of a single party. But they would need to consider and cast those votes individually, she said, rather than check a single partisan box at the top of their ballot.

“We want people to be thoughtful voters,” Arent said. “We want them to see the names of the people that they’re voting for.”

This is Arent’s final legislative session, as she recently announced that she would not seek reelection this year and instead will retire from the Legislature at the end of her term.

Weber County Clerk/Auditor Ricky Hatch said the state’s election officials frequently receive calls from voters who are confused by the straight-ticket option. He described voters who believed that indicating a straight-ticket preference would affiliate them with that party, or who attempted to vote in individual races after selecting the straight ticket option.

He also said the state’s nonpartisan races tend to see a drop-off in voter participation, and suggested some voters mistakenly believe their ballot is complete after selecting the straight-ticket option.

“From a policy standpoint, the clerks’ group is neutral on this,” Hatch said. “In the area of voter confusion, however, we support this bill.”

While two members of the committee opposed the bill, they did not state their objections during Thursday’s hearing. The bill will now move to the House for consideration.