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Thousands urging Utah electors to oppose Trump

FILE: Salt Lake County Councilman Richard Snelgrove's inbox is overflowing with thousands of emails from around the country, urging him not to vote for President-elect Donald Trump as one of the state's six presidential electors. In the file photo above,
FILE: Salt Lake County Councilman Richard Snelgrove's inbox is overflowing with thousands of emails from around the country, urging him not to vote for President-elect Donald Trump as one of the state's six presidential electors. In the file photo above, Snelgrove discusses west side economic development during a press conference on Sept. 26, 2016.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY— Salt Lake County Councilman Richard Snelgrove's inbox is overflowing with thousands of emails from around the country, urging him not to vote for President-elect Donald Trump as one of the state's six presidential electors.

A typical email, he said, is from a California mom who writes she's "never been so disturbed and frightened by the outcome of a presidential election" and wants him to "honor the majority" of Americans who voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Some emails suggest he should write in the name of a fellow Republican such as former presidential nominee Mitt Romney when electors meet in every state on Dec. 19, Snelgrove said, noting that fewer than a dozen emails came from Utahns.

While Snelgrove said he's reading all the emails, nothing will change his vote. Just as he did the first time he served as an elector, in 2008, when Utah voted for Arizona Sen. John McCain, the councilman said he will fulfill his duties.

Under Utah law, Trump must receive all the state's Electoral College votes as the winner of the Nov. 8 presidential election here. Electors who fail to comply are replaced but do not face any penalties.

"Even if we were not bound as electors, who am I to overturn the will of the people?" Snelgrove said. "Trump carried Utah. He won it fair and square. No one elected me king to go in there and defy the will of the people."

First-time Utah elector Kris Kimball questioned whether she'd be hearing from so many people if it were Trump who had won the most votes nationally but lost the electoral vote to Clinton, not the other way around.

Kimball shared a sample of her email, a note from a California woman telling her to "be the hero we so desperately need" by voting for the person who won the popular vote. "You have the power to correct a most terrible wrong."

Clinton leads the popular vote by 2.5 million votes and counting, but Trump took the popular vote in 30 states with a total of 306 electoral votes — 37 more than the 270 needed to become president.

"I don't see anybody who would even think to switch their vote because you're elected to represent your party," Kimball said of her fellow electors, alloted according to the number of U.S. Senate and House members that represent the state in Washington, D.C.

A former Davis County GOP chairwoman, Kimball said she was a little uncomfortable with the attention from so many people outside the state wanting her to be a so-called "faithless" elector.

"I'm an elector to serve the people of Utah, which I'm totally fine with. But all of a sudden there's all this national exposure," she said. "They're putting you on a guilt trip; that's what they're doing. They don't understand there's no choice in Utah."

Another Utah elector, Cherilyn Eagar, said she is trying to respond respectfully to what she termed misinformation from people contacting her about her role in the election.

"You just don't go out there and put some name on your ballot," Eagar said, decrying the protests in the aftermath of Trump's victory. "We don't lend ourselves to the emotional takeover of mob rule."

Even Utah elector Peter Greathouse, identified by Politico as one of a handful of "Trump skeptics" with Electoral College votes nationwide, said it's pointless to consider voting for anyone else because "it's not going to change anything."

Greathouse said he hopes this election will result in a re-examination of prohibitions that prevent electors from straying from the popular vote results in their states. There is no such federal or constitutional requirement.

"I would like the electors to have a little more freedom in their choices. I also understand why the law is the way it is. But I would like to see the binding part looked at again," he said. "Maybe we still need to do it. Maybe we don’t."

The emails the Utah electors selected in April at the state Republican Party convention are receiving appear to be part of a national effort to shake up the Electoral College.

It's the little-understood institution that actually elects the president, through slates of electors named in each state by each candidate's political party and sometimes bound by either pledges to those parties or by state law.

On Dec. 19, the day designated by Congress for the Electoral College vote, Utah's electors will gather in Room 445 in the Capitol at noon for what is expected to be a brief ceremony.

"All that has to happen is we get the six signatures and we're done," state Elections Director Mark Thomas said. "I think it will be a fairly quiet day for those electors. They'll just do what needs to get done."

Still, Thomas said officials plan to be "prepared for anything," including the possibility electors balk at voting for Trump. Should that happen, their seats would be considered vacant and immediately filled from a list of alternates, he said.

"I know there's the idea that perhaps maybe there might be the opportunity for an elector to go rogue. Perhaps that's a possibility in other states. I just don't see it happening here," Thomas said.

University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank agreed.

"We usually don't have that conversation," Burbank said, noting that given the way the process works in Utah, "there's no real reason for anybody to do anything else here."

He said the Electoral College vote amounts to a civics lesson.

"It's a good reminder to us about how the system actually works. We tend to think, 'I voted. I helped determine who won the presidency,'" Burbank said, when in fact the popular vote overall doesn't count.

During his campaign, Trump acknowledged he had a "tremendous problem" with Utah voters, who were uncomfortable with not only his bombastic style but also his positions on a number of issues, including a proposed ban on Muslims entering the country.

When a 2005 video surfaced in October of a graphic conversation between Trump and a TV host about making sexual advances on women, some Utahns — including Gov. Gary Herbert — backed away from supporting the GOP candidate.

An independent conservative candidate, Evan McMullin, was on the ballot in a handful of states but focused on Utah, trying to take advantage of the discomfort some voters in the reliably Republican state felt toward Trump.

In the end, Utah, a state that has not voted for a Democrat for president since 1964, once again stayed red. Trump won with 45.5 percent of the vote, followed by Clinton with 27.5 percent and McMullin with 21.5 percent.

One of those Trump voters was Stan Lockhart, a leader of the "Stop Trump/Stop Clinton" effort in Utah. Lockhart, who ran for elector and would be tapped as an alternate if necessary, said he saw Trump as better than Clinton.

Lockhart said he's also receiving mail from out of state telling him to reject Trump, but should he be called upon to vote as an elector, he would go with the winner in Utah, just as he did when he served as a Republican elector in 2008 and 2012.

"I personally feel an obligation to how the state voted," the former state Republican Party chairman said. "I'm not a freelancer. I'm there to represent the will of the people."

The state GOP headquarters is getting lots of calls about the Electoral College vote, Utah GOP Chairman James Evans said, "talking about how you can vote your conscience, all that kind of stuff. Well, our law is clear."

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon said despite the outcome of this year's election, he doesn't want to do away with the Electoral College in favor of the popular vote.

"I just think it would provide too much power to the large states. We'd get less attention," said Corroon, who would have been an elector under his party's rules had Clinton won Utah. "I'm thinking long term."