Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Back to the Future, 1990 Edition

Salt Lake County Ballot, circa 1990
Let's jump in the time machine and go back a few years. 1990 to be exact.

BYU was getting ready to debut their new 7'5" Freshman center Shawn Bradley. The Utah Jazz opened their first full season under Jerry Sloan against Jeff Hornacek's Phoenix Suns in Tokyo Japan. The Jazz were also celebrating their last season playing in the Salt Palace before moving into what was then called "Larry Miller's new arena" in newspaper articles.

In politics, there was an unpopular President facing midterm elections. In the final week before the election, Vice President Dan Quayle and First Lady Barbra Bush came to Utah on back to back days to campaign for Republican Congressional candidates. Democrats Wayne Owens and Bill Orton won those two seats. Randy Horiuchi won his first election to the Salt Lake County Commission. Gary Herbert won his first election to the Utah County Commission (he had been appointed to the job the year before).

And that leads us to the article found on page B2 of the Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday, November 1, 1990, written by Dan Harrie:

Utah Democrats don't like playing second fiddle to Republicans on election ballots in Salt Lake County, party officials said Wednesday, and they'll fight for a share of the top spot in court.

But, not this year.

Peter Billings, state Democratic Party chairman, called a news conference to denounce County Clerk Dixon Hundley's practice of listing GOP candidates first on the ballot in all races.

"Mr Hindley's systematic and widespread exclusionary practice of denying any candidate not affiliated with the Republican Party the top spot on the ballot is clearly a violation of the equal protection clause" of the the Constitution, Mr Billings charged.

Democrats cited appeals court rulings in two other states rejecting such preferential treatment as unconstitutional.

Mr Billings said it's too late to do anything about the Nov 6 election ballots, which already have been printed. But, "we're putting them on notice if they do that again next time, we are going to bring suit."

Copies of Salt Lake County ballots dating back to 1982 show Republicans always have been given top billing.

Mr Hindley was not available for comment Wednesday.

Mr Billings says Mr Hindley has been one of the biggest abusers of placing candidates of his own party first. The practice, however, appears to be a long and widespread tradition in Utah.

Tooele County Attorney Dennis Ewing said in a telephone interview, "In Tooele County, we list Democrats first."

Mr Ewing, a Democrat, said that practice has been in effect throughout his 17 years in office and "probably before my time," because of Democratic dominance in that county.

Mr Billings said Democratic county clerks should be held to the same standard he's demanding for Mr Hindley. And he promised the party will "work to cure any misuses in other counties."

In the Illinois and North Dakota cases cited as legal precedents, courts relied on studies saying top ballot placement translated to 3 percent to 5 percent more votes.

What the article did not say is that the state Democratic Party's director of administration was Sherrie Swensen, who also happened to be the party's candidate for the position of county clerk.

So, let's move ahead 20 years to 2010. Shawn Bradley had a very successful Freshman year at BYU, left on an LDS mission, then had a great NBA career. He's now running for Utah House of Representatives. Jeff Hornacek now has a jersey hanging next to one for Larry Miller in the rafters of what is now known as EnergySolutions Arena.

Randy Horiuchi is still on what is now the Salt Lake County Council.

And, ballots in Salt Lake County still have one party at the top of every race.

The difference is that Sherrie Swensen won that election in 1990. Which means Democrats have been at the top of the ballot ever since.

Ms Swensen doesn't see a problem with this. However, her Republican challenger, Jeremy Votaw, does.

And, so do I. If it was wrong when a Republican was in charge, then it's still wrong when a Democrat is in charge.

Now, my methods of changing this rule are different than Mr Votaw's. However, Mr Votaw's position on this is solid -- he wants to make elections more fair for everyone. And elections should be fair, shouldn't they?

That is why I am proud to endorse Jeremy Votaw for Salt Lake County Clerk.



Anonymous said...

Can't blow any steam off on this one...you've hit the nail on the head. Way to go, Bob. IHOP on me next time we meet there...

doradrama said...

If there is going to be a change in ballot placement, it needs to be done uniformly statewide. Salt Lake County can't go off and make up their own rules for ballot placement while the other clerks throughout the state continue to place their party's candidates first in each race. The legislature has had this process in place for well over 40 years and I doubt they will change it now. If Mr. Votaw is serious about making this change, he should have asked his friends at the legislature to sponsor a bill. I think you've bought into his pandering and drumming up a false controversy to try and get himself elected.

Bob said...

Actually, I have thought about how wrong it is for candidates to be placed in this order for 10 years, which happens to be how long I've been voting.

And, I just looked in Utah Election Code, and I could only find the following:

(1) Each election officer shall ensure, for paper ballots in regular general elections, that:
(a) except for candidates for state school board and local school boards:
(i) each candidate is listed by party; and
(ii) candidates' surnames are listed in alphabetical order on the ballots when two or more candidates' names are required to be listed on a ticket under the title of an office;

I can't find any provision for electronic ballots.

And, I couldn't find anything supporting your claim that this is the Legislature's problem.


Oldenburg said...

That was my Dad by the way. I agree that there needs to be a uniform standard for who goes first, and it should be something like alphabet, not party, or who the encumbent is.

Nevertheless, I think the average benefit for being the first is about 1-2%...so it only makes a difference in close races, like Jeff Hatch's was last time.