SALT LAKE CITY — Several state lawmakers want Utah to join a movement urging that the president of the United States be elected by popular vote.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, and Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, want Utah to pass a bill that would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. They say it would ensure that every vote matters in a presidential election.
"This is fair," Noel said. "We strongly believe the Founding Fathers believed every person's vote should count."
Stephenson, Noel and National Popular Vote spokesman Pat Rosenstiel pitched the idea of a national popular vote to the Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee on Wednesday. National Popular Vote is an organization pushing the proposal which Rosenstiel said has bipartisan support.
To date, nine states holding 132 electoral votes have passed popular-vote bills, which enters them into an interstate compact, Rosenstiel said. Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, proposed the bill during the 2011 Legislature, but it didn't reach the floor.
States in the compact agree to elect the president by popular vote. The compact would not be triggered until states holding a total of 270 or more electoral votes (the number needed to win the presidency) pass it. It would then need congressional approval at that point.
Currently, 538 electors (one for each U.S. senator and representative) who comprise the Electoral College cast votes for the president. The candidate who receives the most votes in each state is awarded 100 percent of the state's electoral votes in a "winner-take-all" system.
The bill does not do away with the Electoral College, but lets states decide how electoral votes are allocated.
The winner-take-all system "relegates Utah voters to second-class citizenship" when it comes to presidential elections, Rosenstiel said. A popular vote, he said, would make Utah as relevant as battleground states such as Colorado and Iowa.
Stephenson said the current system allows the presidency to be decided by a dozen swing states where candidates spend 98 percent of their money. And, he said, that affects policy decisions in Washington, D.C.
"When you look at the crazy things Washington is doing, both the White House and Congress, Republicans and Democrats, there is no explanation of the amazing things they do except to win the swing states," Stephenson said.
Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, said the idea of a national popular vote warrants further study.
"I'm very intrigued by it," he said after the meeting. "I think the question is, does it make it more fair?"
Litvack said he worries it could infuse even more money into presidential campaigns, but that might be the trade-off for more equal footing.
After listening to the lawmakers' presentation, Bountiful resident Anne Marie Oborn said she does not favor it.
"It's just a popular vote and that has never been a good way to elect anybody, unless they want to be crowned king or queen," she said.
Oborn, who considers herself an Eagle Forum conservative, said Utah would have less power because large states like California and New York would get all the attention.
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