Senator Howard Stephenson (R-Draper) has introduced S.B. 63, which proposes that Utah join with a coalition of other states totaling 270 electoral votes in order to allocate them as a block to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote. This coalition, called the National Popular Vote, would effectively change the way we elect a President when the electors meet after Election Day in December at the state capitols (constitutionally, that’s when it’s decided). In fact, if this system had been in place in the 2000 election, Utah would have been helped make Al Gore the President — despite the fact a majority of Utahns voted for George W. Bush.
The National Popular Vote law has been enacted by states possessing 132 electoral votes — 49% of the 270 electoral votes needed to activate it.
In an e-mail to constituents, Rep. Greg Hughes supported S.B. 63, saying:
The electoral system does create some unintended side effects. Since the number of electors varies greatly by state (Utah has 6, Florida 29, California 55) consistently red or blue states are accepted as such, and taken for granted in a presidential race. For example, no Republican candidate spends much time in California, and no Democrat candidate spends much time in Utah. As a matter of fact, no candidate spends much time in a state that has historically leaned strongly to either party, instead dedicating most of their time to the eleven or so swing states which could go either way and deliver large numbers of electoral votes. As a consequence, smaller states get ignored –along with states whose majority can be easily predicted. That’s two strikes against a state like Utah.
If the focus were on individual votes (which a mechanism like S.B. 63 would provide) instead of ten swing states, “fly-over land” would suddenly become infinitely more valuable.
S.B. 63 raises an interesting constitutional question.
How can a coalition of states do this without a constitutional amendment that would allow for direct election of the President? States have the right to set the rules governing electors, who are free to vote for anyone eligible to be President. Utah’s electors are not bound to follow the majority popular vote. However, electors traditionally vote for the winning candidate in their state. The few who have broken this unwritten rule are referred to as “faithless electors”.
Given the difficulty of amending the Constitution, it makes sense to try to reform the electoral system on the state level. The National Popular Vote coalition would ensure that that every vote in every state will matter in every presidential election. OTOH you can say the new system would be as undemocratic as the present system, and an election such as the 2000 election would still be highly controversial, except in a different way.
Under the proposed new system, presidential candidates would likely concentrate their campaign efforts in the most populous states instead of the swing states. Utah would not be totally ignored any longer (and would keep its disproportionate 6 electoral votes), but the two major party candidates still might not come here.
Utah Democrats and progressives could go to the polls in the knowledge that their votes might make a difference. At the same time, third-party candidates might lose votes. Voters could worry that voting third-party might hurt the chances of one of the major-party candidates.
Is S.B. 63 a good idea? Any thoughts?