There’s a reason nobody is talking about that may be a huge unintended consequence of SB 54.
Part of the reasoning behind the lawsuit the Utah GOP filed against SB 54 goes something like this. The Republican Party does not have time to implement all of the changes required by SB 54 ahead of the 2016 election. If the party does not make those changes, they won’t be considered a “qualified” political party. If that happens, Republican candidates could potentially appear on the ballot without their party affiliation next to their name.
With me so far?
In a state where most voters pick the Republican candidate by default, that could be a big problem. How can you simply vote for Republicans when you don’t know who the Republicans are?
However, there’s another issue at play here - the straight-ticket ballot.
For years, straight ticket voting has been a big reason Republicans win elections in Utah. It makes it extremely easy for voters to cast a ballot without the tedious process of voting in every single race during an election. You check one box and you’re done!
Here’s why straight ticket voting matters. In this last election, nearly half of all ballots cast statewide were straight ticket - and 63% of those were for the Republicans. In Salt Lake County alone, more than half of the ballots cast were straight ticket (52%). In 2012, about 40% of the ballots were straight-party.
If there are no Republicans on the ballot, that takes away the straight-party ticket option for them (while preserving it for Democrats). That would put Republicans at a distinct disadvantage, especially in Salt Lake County where 47% of the straight ticket ballots were punched for Dems in 2012 and 51% were for the Democrat in 2014. Take that away from the Republicans and it’s a recipe for trouble in 2016.
There have been many efforts by lawmakers (mostly Democrats) to get rid of the straight party ticket. Why do you think Republican lawmakers have vehemently opposed any such effort? Aside from Salt Lake and Summit Counties, it’s a huge built-in advantage for the GOP. In fact, it’s become so ingrained to our electoral process that Democrats have stopped trying to get rid of it.
SB 54 presents a clear and present threat to the straight-ticket option for Republicans. People have wondered why the Utah GOP waited so long to file suit to stop SB 54. I’m guessing at least part of the reason is they recently realized that without a candidate being identified as Republican on the ballot, their straight-ticket weapon could potentially go away in 2016.
Utah GOP officials have said repeatedly they do not see the need to make the parties comply with SB 54 before the 2016 election, that the “aggressive timeline” makes no sense. That it was “unfair” to the parties.
What about fairness for the reported 100,000 Utahns who lent their signature to the “Count My Vote” petition drive? When the SB 54 compromise was announced, they had faith that they would be treated fairly, too.