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Utah's six electors vote for President-elect Trump despite protest

SALT LAKE CITY — As expected, Utah's six presidential electors cast their ballots Monday for President-elect Donald Trump, the winner of the state's presidential election last month.

But the size and strength of the crowd of Trump protesters who jammed into the legislative committee room at the state Capitol where the typically low-key Electoral College vote was conducted came as a surprise to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.

"This is really, really amazing to see so many of you. I hope you know that this is what our country's all about," Cox said, welcoming the protesters as well as a group of Hawthorne Elementary School students seated among them.

Many in the audience waved signs urging the electors chosen at the GOP's state convention earlier this year to "Vote Your Conscience" and "Say Nyet to Trump" and chanted, "The whole world is watching," as the proceedings began.

The electors marked their ballots for both president and vice president as the audience began chanting again. Despite hearing "No Trump" and "Please do the right thing," they voted for Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

When the results were announced, the crowd loudly booed and yelled comments at the electors such as "Treasonous," "Shame on you" and "Where is your conscience." One man repeatedly shouted a Nazi salute.

Most of the comments didn't bother elector Peter Greathouse, a Lynndyl farmer who did not support Trump but felt obligated to vote for him Monday under a Utah law that requires electors to back the winner of the state's election.

Greathouse, who, along with all six electors, was bombarded in recent days with emails from around the country asking that he not vote for Trump, said the protesters were "a vocal minority but it's great they were here."

However, he said when he ran as an elector, he agreed to follow the law "and so I did it." Unlike some states with similar laws, there is no penalty for Utah electors who do not comply, but they are replaced with an alternate.

Elector Jeremy Jenkins, a Trump supporter, said he expected the raucous crowd.

"There are a lot of people who are disturbed about this," Jenkins said. "That's accurate that we didn't have a choice, but I do it enthusiastically also. I am a supporter of Donald Trump and I think he is what we need at this time."

One of the protesters, Salt Lake City musician John Ause, said that "if anyone thought the vote was going to be different in Utah, they were kidding themselves. I think we all knew what the outcome was going to be."

But Ause said after seeing the turnout against Trump on Monday, he's not ready to give up. "I'm back in the game and I'm going to do what I can to continue to disrupt Donald Trump," he said.

The committee room, the largest in the Capitol, was filled well before the vote. It was so crowded that an announcement was made that the 128-person capacity set by the fire marshal had been reached and some protesters had to stay in the hall.

"We've never seen a crowd like this," state Elections Director Mark Thomas said.

Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said the protest "really gets to the heart of the fact that there are still segments of our Utah population that have not come to terms with the results of this election."

Perry said while their efforts Monday may have been largely symbolic, "protests are a sign of our republic working. When you start getting concerned is when people are no longer interested."

He said if the protesters can "channel that energy and keep it going, it is good for the system itself."

Earlier Monday, a new poll was released showing that a majority of Utahns are optimistic about a Trump presidency. Before the election, Trump said he had a "tremendous problem" with Utah voters.

Many in the state, including Cox and other elected officials, were uncomfortable with Trump's style and some of his stands even before a 2005 video surfaced of him talking in graphic terms about making sexual advances on women.

Now, though, the poll found that 59 percent of Utahns expressed optimism about the new president and his administration, including nearly a quarter who called themselves "very optimistic."

Forty percent of those polled by Dan Jones & Associates, however, said they were pessimistic about the incoming leader, including 27 percent who were "very pessimistic."

The results split along party lines, with 82 percent of Republicans saying they were optimistic and 90 percent of Democrats saying they were pessimistic. Just over half of political independents were optimistic.

The poll was conducted Dec. 8-22 of 614 registered Utah voters for the online political news source and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.95 percent.

Trump supporter T.J. Smith, a financial compliance officer from Woods Cross, was caught off guard by the level of support for the billionaire businessman in Utah, a state he won with 45.5 percent of the vote.

"Really? I'm glad to hear that poll. I am surprised because of all the McMullin voters," Smith said, referring to independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, who ran hard in Utah as a conservative alternative to Trump but came in third.

But Diane Christensen, a yoga instructor from Taylorsville who came to the Capitol to protest Trump, said she was "neutral" about the poll results.

"I'm still just believing in following my passion, what's true to my heart," Christensen said. "I'm still not believing Trump is going to be elected president."