Is straight-party ticket voting good for democracy?

Utah one of just 14 states offering the election option

Published: Friday, Oct. 12 2012 9:03 p.m. MDT

Voters leave at the Sweet Avenues library in Salt Lake County Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

SALT LAKE CITY — Voter turnout is expected to be strong in Utah this year, thanks in part to high profile races such as the too-close-to-call presidential race, Utah's newly created 4th District race, the governor’s race and the Salt Lake County mayor’s race.

Thousands of Utah voters are expected to cast their ballot via a method that fewer and fewer states still use: a straight-party ticket vote.

With Mitt Romney topping the GOP ticket, that method could help other Republican candidates in Utah.

A person voting a straight ticket is casting a ballot for everyone on the ballot listed under a particular party. Voter Dallas Froisland likes the option.

“It’s because your ideology is that, is what the party stands for,” he said.

“I don’t know,” said voter Larry Gee. “I think each person should look at each race and I would really encourage them to make an intelligent choice.”

In the last presidential election in 2008, 37 percent of Salt Lake County voters punched a straight ticket. In 2004, it was 40 percent. In both elections, the straight-party votes were split closely between Republicans and Democrats.

This year, turnout looks strong.

“(There’s) a lot of participation, a lot of excitement about this race,” Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said. “I expect it will be very high.”

In general there’s a feeling that straight ticket voting is not good for Democracy, said Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

"You don’t get to really look at other people running,” he said. “You just kind of walk in, punch it, and walk out without a lot of consideration, and it just doesn’t quite give the candidates their due.”

“What a terrible idea,” said Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis. “We need a variety of voices in the Legislature and in our statewide offices. We need that kind of fire that comes with different points of view and that doesn’t come when you hit one straight party or another straight party button.”

It’s a method that dates back to the first political parties in the 1820s.

“Typically, it was because one party was quite dominant and it felt like a way to make a dominant party more dominant,” Jowers said.

Fourteen states still allow for straight ticket voting: Alabama, Oklahoma, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Kentucky, South Carolina, Michigan, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, New Jersey only in primary elections, North Carolina in all races except for presidential elections, and Rhode Island only in general elections. New Mexico decided not to offer a straight-ticket option this year.

Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright said neither party relies on straight-party voting. He believes it's fine if people want to use that option.

“I think the people who are against straight ticket voting say just voting one party and not knowing the candidates and the issues is a problem, and they are not wrong about that. But the bigger problem, I think, is making sure that the voters are educated on all of the issues,” he said.

Taking away the option won’t educate people on the issues and candidates, Wright added. Voters need information about issues, the propositions, the judges as well as the candidates on the ballot to make an educated decision.

Efforts to stop the straight ticket option in Utah, pushed mostly by Democrats over the years, have gone nowhere in the Utah Legislature.

Contributing:  Viviane Vo-Duc

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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