Governor signs bill to end straight-party voting in Utah

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Sen. Mitt Romney meets state lawmakers at the Utah Capitol as Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, listens to the senators response to her concerns over changes to the EPA during a brief meeting with the Democratic House Caucus on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019.

Gov. Gary Herbert has signed into law a bill to end the practice of straight-ticket voting, or endorsing all a party’s candidates by ticking a single box.

The legislation will take effect well ahead of November, meaning Utah voters in the presidential election will have to cast separate votes for each race on the ballot. Rep. Patrice Arent, the measure’s longtime sponsor, said she hopes removing the straight-voting option will decrease confusion and encourage election participation.

“Those who were voting straight-ticket will now have to consider each candidate individually and not just check a partisan box,” the Millcreek Democrat said Tuesday. “That will make for a more thoughtful voter.”

Eliminating the option could also increase voting in non-partisan races, such as for judges and school board members, she said. Voters who use the straight-ticket option often miss those contests, since they assume their ballot is finished after checking the partisan box, Arent said.

Arent, who is retiring at the end of her term, has been working since 2012 to scrap the straight-ticket ballot in Utah. After years of dying in the Legislature, the bill finally won approval this year during the waning moments of the session.

Now that Utah’s election law has changed, there are only a handful of states that still have straight-ticket ballots, Arent said.

Herbert signed the measure Tuesday along with 147 other bills approved by lawmakers in recent weeks. One of them would enable medical cannabis patients to use letters of recommendation from their physicians to buy medicinal marijuana through the end of 2020. Another gives Salt Lake City a greater role in the development of the inland port, a planned trading hub to be located in the city’s northwest quadrant.

The governor also signed off on legislation to expand breakfast at schools for children who need it most and on a resolution encouraging educators to consider later start times for high schools.

Other proposals endorsed by the governor dealt with waste tire recycling, yurts, taxes, veterans and municipal golf cart regulation.

The governor has until April 1 to veto or sign legislation passed during the session.