On Wednesday, the House Government Operations Committee heard testimony on Representative Patrice Arent’s HB 258, that would eliminate the straight party voting option from future ballots.
There are several reasons why we supported the bill and why I spoke in favor of it, including the belief that an electorate should be well informed, that there are many non partisan items on a ballot that are too often ignored by the straight party voters, and because of the negative impact it has on third party candidates and the races where there may not be a candidate from the party selected.
Other members of the public also spoke, including representatives from Represent Me Utah and Utahns for Ethical Government, a former county clerk employee, and a third party candidate who by no coincidence was committee member Mike Noel’s opponent this past November. It also bears saying that the only testimony against the bill was from a representative of the Eagle Forum who said she favored straight party voting because it proved (in her minds) that voters were well informed and opted to vote for a specific party because it shared the same moral values. Needless to say, it wasn’t a particularly gripping testimony.
But as happens, all too often on the Hill, the bill was met with pettiness, resistance to change, and an unwillingness to even entertain an idea that wasn’t theirs. A couple members of the committee, Mike Noel and chair Ken Ivory, were determined to defeat the bill.
Despite thoughtful questions from the committee and more-than-compelling testimony from the sponsor and the public, Noel refused to give it his full attention, even taking a phone call in the middle of testimony. He said he believed that those testifying were unethical because they had spoken against him during his last election, had filed Hatch Act complaints against him (yes, that was us!), and had the word ethics in their name when they were anything but. The only thing he managed to say about the actual bill was that no matter what they did, voters would still not really understand ballots so there was no use making a change.
Its clear to anyone who has ever seen Mike Noel in action, that he’ll never be a candidate for Mr. Congeniality, but this display of pettiness and personal grudge holding said far more about Representative Noel than it did about those he tried to condemn.
As far as a straight party voting bill goes, Representative Arent is formidable and is not one to go down easily. We haven’t seen the last of this one.