Why Nonpartisan Elections for the Utah State Board of Education?

In the upcoming session, the Utah Legislature will be considering a new system for selecting members of the Utah State Board of Education.

In September 2014, the U.S. District Court struck down the current system of selecting Board members as unconstitutional. Thereafter several proposals came before the 2015 legislative session for a new system, including partisan election, nonpartisan, and hybrids of both. None made it to the governor’s desk. Now the legislature will doubtless try again. Apparently, an attempt will be made to revive the unconstitutional “nominating-committee system” by tinkering with the wording of the law.
The Davis Alliance calls on the legislature to adopt nonpartisan direct election of the state Board of Education.
We favor nonpartisan elections for three reasons:
  • Partisan elections for the state board violate the Utah Constitution.  
  • Utahns overwhelmingly favor nonpartisan elections for the state board.
  • Partisanship has no place in public education.
Partisan elections for the state board violate the Utah Constitution.  
The Utah State Constitution prohibits partisan elections for state board members. Article X Section 8 provides that “No religious or partisan test or qualification shall be required as a condition of employment, admission, or attendance in the state’s education systems.” Upon assuming office, the state board members become paid employees of the state’s education system. No partisan test can be applied to them.
As for the unconstitutional nominating-committee system, which a few powerful people in Utah are so determined to keep, in a republic the people should have the right to select their representatives without their being told by a committee of political appointees whom they can vote for. The Davis Alliance is pleased that the court ruled that system unconstitutional. We oppose any attempt to resurrect it.
Utahns overwhelmingly favor nonpartisan elections for the state board.
According to a Utahpolicy.com poll conducted in February 2015, 56 percent of Utah voters favor nonpartisan election, while only 27 percent of voters support partisan election. Additionally, the state Board of Education voted in February 2014 to support the creation of direct nonpartisan elections for board candidates.
Partisanship has no place in public education.
In a nonpartisan election:
  • Candidates are freer to share their true beliefs about education rather than parroting a party line. They are less likely to appeal to the more extreme partisan voters and more likely to speak to educational issues.
  • Voters are encouraged to become informed about the merits of the individual candidates instead of blindly voting a straight ticket.
  • Independent candidates interested solely in quality education have a chance to win. Nearly half of Utah’s 1.4 million voters are unaffiliated and unrepresented in partisan elections.
  • The interests of children should take priority over party interests.  People are fed up with the partisanship of our elected leaders.
Davis Alliance member and former State Board Chair Kim Burningham says, “One reason I strongly favor a non-partisan state school board is the belief that virulent partisanship has no place in our education system.  I prefer to see education decisions made in a setting where diversity of points of view is examined, ultimately choosing that which board members believe serves children best.”
The Davis Alliance believes that the people of Utah should decide who is on the State School Board.  Candidates should have the opportunity to present their case to the voters and be chosen through nonpartisan primary and general elections.
The Davis Alliance for Public Education is a local organization devoted to the mission of supporting and improving public education in Davis County and Utah.   The group meets monthly and any interested person who shares this concern is invited to attend.  For further information, contact Doug MacDonald at [email protected]