College students rally behind national popular vote bill

Published: Friday, Feb. 10 2012 6:23 p.m. MST

Travis DeJong participates in a rally with the popular vote movement on the front steps of the state Capitol Building in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 10, 2012. The popular vote movement wants to replace the electoral vote process in the U.S. Constitution with a popular vote in electing the president.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Standing alongside lifesized cardboard cutouts of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and other presidential candidates, about 40 college students gathered on the state Capitol steps Friday.

Some held handmade signs — one read, "Don't Settle for Cardboard," another, "Fly Over This."

Their point: Utah is among many "flyover" states that seldom get attention from presidential candidates because of the way states, under the U.S. Constitution, award their electoral votes on a winner-take all basis in that state, organizers say.

"Unfortunately, you only get cardboard because Utah is a flyover state," Support Popular Vote organizer Katie Anderson told the crowd, referring to the life-size candidate cutouts.

Organized by the national group Support Popular Vote, the rally was held to promote SB63, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. It would put Utah in an interstate compact of states agreeing to mandate that all their electoral votes go to the candidate winning the most votes nationwide, instead of who won the popular vote in that state.

By pushing for a new statute in each state, Support Popular Vote believes the plan wouldn't require a constitutional amendment to avoid what happened in 2000 when George W. Bush won the presidency with electoral votes, while Al Gore arguably won a majority of the popular vote.

And in 2004, Democrat John Kerry would have won under the Constitution's electoral college system, if he'd garnered 60,000 more votes in Ohio, even though Bush appeared to have won about 3 million more votes nationwide, according to the group. 

Supporters also say the proposal would make presidential candidates pay more attention to more states.

Currently, most states, including Utah, have a winner-take-all rule for awarding electors. Whichever candidate wins the most votes statewide gets all of a state's electors. In 2008, Utah's electoral votes went to John McCain, even though Barack Obama won the popular and electoral college vote.

Only Maine and Nebraska award electors proportionally, according to Support Popular Vote literature.

The Popular Vote proposals, which all use the same language, would only kick in if states representing at least 270 electoral votes approve the measure. That would guarantee that a majority of the 538 electoral votes going for the candidate with the most popular votes, according to Support Popular Vote. Utah has 5 electoral votes.

Currently, eight states and the District of Columbia have enacted the law, representing 132 electors. Supporters are working in 20 more states to get the law passed, Anderson said.

Utah Republican House and Senate leaders gave the idea a cool reception.

"I don’t have any interest in moving it forward," said Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said there's not a lot of motivation in the House to take that issue on this year.

"I still have some questions that need to be answered about, but I'm not inclined to support it," she said.

The rally drew members of both College Republicans and College Democrats from the University of Utah and LDS Business College. 

Anderson said the effort is drawing support from both parties. The group lists former Utah Sen. Jake Garn on its national advisory board. Upstate New York billionaire Tom Golisano, the founder of a payroll processing company, is funding much of the effort, she added.

E-mail: lbrubaker@desnews.com, romboy@desnews.com, Twitter: dennisromboy

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