After seeing the ballot for this election cycle I quickly spotted a number of problems with the ballot. These weren’t issues with the ballot being faulty. They were (generally) manifestations on the ballot of problems within our political system and climate. Here is the ballot I received:
This really isn’t a problem unless the ballot stays empty (which this one won’t). The problem is that there are always thousands of ballots (millions nationwide) that remain empty. This is, functionally, the simplest of the problems to fix – people just need to take the time to vote. (If only it were really that simple.)
This ballot is 8½ X 17 and it fills out the first side and most of the second. That is too many races and issues for most people to pay attention to and cast informed votes on in a single cycle. It practically guarantees uninformed voting.
Straight Party Voting
The green area highlights the option to vote for a straight party. That takes the bulk of the thinking out of voting. The reason that straight party voting is desireable is that citizens find it easier to pick one party than to pick a whole slate of candidates. In some countries voting for the party is the way the system was designed to work (Israel for example) but here the citizens are supposed to vote for candidates for each office. Parties can be useful in facilitating that process by helping voters have a starting point for which candidates they are most likely to agree with but straight party ballots encourage parties to simply hijack the process.
If you want to vote for only candidates from a single party that’s fine but you should do so by actually casting a vote for individual candidates.
The yellow areas highlight 7 races where there is only a single candidate on the ballot. These uncontested races indicate consensus among the political class (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), single party dominance (which indicates a lack of robust political debate), or lack of interest in the office. I believe that for offices where only one party has candidates for the office that those races shouldn’t be decided in the party primary. Instead, if there are no candidates from opposing parties the top 3 candidates (2 if there are only 2) from the party primary should all be advanced to the general election for the voters to select from.
In those cases where there is only one candidate total they should not appear on the ballot, or should simply appear as information (e.g. “Dale Peterson will serve as Davis County Assessor as the only candidate to file.”) since such races always go to that one candidate anyway.
The purple areas highlight 17 judicial retention questions. This is an area that voters are almost universally unable to cast a truly informed vote (despite the best efforts of the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission). It’s a waste of space on the ballot that should be removed and replaced with defined terms for judges (it would require an amendment to the state constitution). See Judicial Retention Utah’s Forgotten Elections for a review of the pitfalls of judicial retention.
We can solve the ballot length issues by removing uncontested races, straight party voting options, and judicial retention questions (that’s more than half the ballot). Doing so also makes informed voting easier by limiting votes to those races where voters have the opportunity to make an informed choice. We can increase political discourse in one-party dominated areas by allowing multiple candidates from a party to get on the general election ballot whenever other parties fail to field a candidate.