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Utah could inch U.S. closer to adopting national popular vote rather than Electoral College

A member of Iowa's Electoral College signs the Certificate of Vote of Electors for the State of Iowa, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would enter Utah into an interstate compact, allowing some states to elect the president through the popular vote rather than through the Electoral College. 

If enacted, the compact would grant all six of Utah’s electoral votes to the candidate with the most votes nationwide. 

“Honestly, I think passing a national popular vote will encourage more civic engagement,” said Sen. Derek Kitchen, sponsor of SB121. “The reality is that Utah is a ‘flyover state’ and we’re not a competitive state. The presidential election itself is decided based on swing states.” 

Utah pushes for national popular vote

The 2021 General Session marks the fifth time the bill has been introduced to the state legislature since 2009 — all by Republican lawmakers. The last time it was proposed was in 2018 by Rep. Jeremy A. Peterson.

The bill reflects a larger movement across the U.S. that shows a majority of voters would prefer to elect the president based on the national popular vote. 

More than half of U.S. adults (58%) say they believe the Constitution should be amended to allow the candidate with the most votes to win, according to the Pew Research Center. Forty percent say otherwise. 

Under the Electoral College system, presidential candidates heavily focus on swing states to determine the outcome of the race. As a result, voters in Utah are left out of the conversation, Kitchen said. 

“States like Utah get skipped over because we’re a solidly Republican state and places like California are assumed to be Democrat,” he said. 

Popular vote allows more voices to be heard, lawmaker says

Instead, he argued, voters should be placed on a level playing field. That way, Democrats in Utah and Republicans in California aren’t ignored. 

For example, there are around 920 thousand registered Republican voters in Utah in 2021. Ahead of the 2020 election, California reported more than 5.3 million Republican voters in its blue state. 

“[If the bill passed], even in states like Utah where we’re reliably Republican, the Democratic votes will be valued here,” Kitchen said. “In California, Republican votes will be valued.”

If the U.S. operated through a popular vote system, elections could be more competitive and more voices would be heard, according to Kitchen. 

“Three quarters of [election] spending exists in just five states,” he said. “We have a lot of good people here in Utah and we should be engaged in the political process.”