Utah Capitol 35

Some Republican House members are pushing hard to get a Democratic-sponsored bill to eliminate the straight-party vote option on Utah’s ballots over the finish line this year.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City is once again sponsoring a bill to remove the straight-party option from the ballot this year. After several years of falling short, this is Arent’s final chance as she’s retiring at the end of the year. This time, she’s got a lot of help.

UtahPolicy.com is told several Salt Lake County Republicans, many of whom are in swing districts, have been lobbying their Senate counterparts to build support for the bill. 

I got the support from some of those same Republicans last year,” said Arent when asked about the lobbying effort. “ This is good policy and particularly now more important because people vote by mail-in ballot.”

Arent’s bill passed the House earlier this session. That was not much of a surprise as she had 37 co-sponsors for the bill. But, once the legislation got to the Senate, it seemingly stalled for two weeks before the Senate Rules Committee finally assigned it to a committee for a hearing on Tuesday morning.

Legislative sources tell UtahPolicy.com that the reason for the unusually long delay in the Senate Rules was ambivalence in the Senate GOP Caucus. There was not much opposition for the bill, but not much support, either. 

The lobbying effort apparently worked as it finally shook the bill loose and moved it ahead in the process.

In every county but Salt Lake, straight-ticket voting has been an advantage for Republican candidates in Utah, with far more cast for Republicans than Democrats. However, the inverse is true in Salt Lake County, with 14,094 more straight-party votes being cast for Democrats than Republicans in 2018.

“There are some folks who would rather win by 40 percentage points instead of 35 percentage points,” said one House Republican who asked that their name not be used for this article.

There are just 7 states, including Utah, that currently allow straight-ticket voting. Several others abolished the practice in recent years.

Last year, Arent’s bill passed the House but sat on the Senate board on the final night until the Legislature adjourned for the year. 

If the bill makes it through Tuesday’s committee hearing, Arent is confident it will be heard on the Senate floor and it will finally pass. She tells UtahPolicy.com she will make this bill her top priority for passage when the remaining legislation is re-prioritized in the final days of the session. It also helps her cause that the Senate sponsor is Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who has a reputation as a bit of a legislative pitbull.

A source in Gov. Gary Herbert’s office tells UtahPolicy.com they have been following the progress of Arent’s bill, but the governor has not taken a formal position on the legislation. They do anticipate he will sign it if it ultimately passes.