"It's archaic! It's outdated," declared a Republican state legislator from Michigan, who was among the legislators who eliminated the straight-party voting option on the Michigan state ballot in Dec. 2001. Less than a day before I was going to present legislation to eliminate straight-party voting in the Utah State Legislature in 2002, I discovered that Michigan's legislators had not only proposed the elimination of straight-party voting, but had also already passed it.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, a single voter in some states might be asked to vote for anywhere from 54 to 150 government officials. Thus, as voters were confronted with a large number of candidates, they often voted only for the candidates running in high-profile offices. Consequently, because parties dominated politics and voters simply voted the party line or did not bother to vote at all in low-profile offices, many states enacted statutes providing for single-action straight-ticket voting. Currently, over two-thirds of the states have now removed the straight-ticket option on their ballot; unfortunately, Utah is behind the curve with legislation to remove this option.
In 2002, when I sponsored legislation to eliminate the straight-party voting option in Utah — one of the reddest states in the nation — Republicans had a host of arguments against its elimination. One representative argued, "We're afraid people are ignorant or uniformed. Being ignorant is not a crime. I don't think we ought to limit people's choice in this area."
One problem is that a number of voters who use this option do not complete the ballot; they neglect to vote in nonpartisan races, such as the school board races and judges. Furthermore, those same voters often do not vote on propositions, referendums, initiatives and bond elections.
In the article, "A Deeper Look," journalist Lawrence Reed expressed similar concerns: "If they ban the option, then it encourages them to cast a more complete ballot and surely the cause of democracy is served. The right to vote is precious enough to be worth the effort of a thoughtful casting of votes race by race, issue by issue, candidate by candidate."
Unfortunately, when I asked one of the women who worked at the Utah County Elections Office what she thought about the straight-party vote option on the ballot, she remarked, "It's just easier; that way (voters) don't have to become informed about the candidates."
I believe eliminating the straight-party vote option encourages more thoughtful voting. How can democracy work today if voters do not take the time to study the candidates and vote for the person rather than the party?
Yes, like the representative from Michigan, I believe the straight-party vote option has outlived its purpose. It is archaic and outdated.
Trish Beck is a former Utah state representative.
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