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Straight party voting bill dies

SHARE Straight party voting bill dies

It didn't take long for Republicans to kill a Democratic-sponsored bill that would have prohibited straight party voting in Utah.

Rep. Trish Beck, D-Sandy, says straight party voting, where a voter checks a political party box at the front of the ballot, casting a vote for every candidate of that party, is outdated, discourages an informed electorate and can actually harm participation in non-partisan or ballot proposition voting.

But Republicans on the House Government Operations Committee wanted nothing to do with Beck's bill. They tabled it in a 6-4 straight party line vote, and it is likely dead.

Republicans outnumber Democrats two-to-one in the Legislature and two-to-one among Utahns in general.

Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, a Democrat who oversees elections in the state's largest county and supports removing straight ticket voting, provided some statistics: In 2000, out of 321,000 ballots cast in the county, 46,553 people voted straight Democratic, 50,225 voted straight Republican. Throw in straight party voting by minor parties, and about a third of all voters took the straight ticket option.

Several Republicans on the committee said they didn't want to take away such a voting option from so many people.

"I'm appalled that people would say we have lazy voters" who don't want to take the time to learn about each candidate and vote in individual contests throughout the ballot, said Rep. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara. Such comments "are inappropriate, demeaning and disparaging."

"My father-in-law voted straight party Democrat all his life," said Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley. "Should I take away his right to do that?"

In America one used to have to own property, pass a test and know how to read in order to vote, said Bigelow. We reject those voting methods today, he said, and saying voters must be more educated in order to vote is, in a way, "a return" to those restrictive voting procedures, Bigelow said.

While Rep. Pat Jones, D-South Cottonwood, said about the same number of people in Salt Lake County voted straight Democratic or straight Republican in 2000, Beck's bill was definitely partisan in how it was viewed.

Outside of Carbon County — the only real Democratic stronghold in the state — Republicans outnumber Democrats. And for years, in minor races, like the Legislature, voters may not know the candidates and so vote party, and that helps Republicans get elected.

Gayle Ruzicka of Utah Eagle Forum likes that idea. "You may not know all the candidates; no one can. But you can know their party and the party platform." If you believe in that platform, you can cast your vote in an informed way, she said.

E-MAIL: bbjr@desnews.com