WASHINGTON - The votes of Utahns in the presidential election counted nearly twice as much as those of voters in such states as Michigan and California. As Ripley would say, believe it or not.

That little extra apparent power for Utahns results from quirks in the much-maligned electoral college - and shows one reason why it has never been abolished.Each state has one electoral vote for each member it has in Congress. Utah has five electoral votes because of its three House members and two senators.

The people who vote in the electoral college are pledged - but not bound - to vote for whoever receives a majority of popular votes in the state. George Bush won the popular vote in Utah, and therefore won its five electoral votes.

Utah had 763,059 registered voters in 1986 - the last year when voter registration totals for all states were available. That means Utah had one electoral college vote for every 152,611 registered voters.

Meanwhile, Michigan had only one electoral college vote for every 288,404 registered voters. California had an electoral ballot for every 280,665 registered voters.

In other words, the votes of Utahns really counted almost twice as much when it came to deciding who became president through the electoral college than did the votes of people in Michigan and California.

Such discrepancies happen because of uneven representation in Congress, which favors small states. And, of course, the number of electoral ballots is based on congressional representation.

Small states are favored in Congress because each state has two senators, no matter how large or small their population. Also, each state is guaranteed at least one House member, even if the state's entire population is less than half the population of congressional districts in large states.

That guarantee leaves some large states with fewer House members than they would have otherwise.

All that works out so that the votes of Utahns counted more in deciding who becomes president than did the votes of people in 39 other states.

The only states where peoples' votes counted more than those of Utahns were the small-population Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.

The votes of Wyoming residents counted the most in the electoral college. Wyoming had an electoral ballot for every 67,276 registered voters.

That means the votes of Wyoming residents were worth more thantwice as much as those of Utahns, and counted more than four times as much as those of Michigan residents.

Having the small states' votes count more may be one reason such states have not fought harder to abolish the electoral college.

The large states haven't fought it much either because the system still makes them the major battleground in presidential politics. Candidates could win the election by winning just the 10 largest states in the electoral college.

And candidates always spend the most time where they can pick up the most votes - which also happens to be the large states.

If the electoral college were abolished and the president were chosen strictly by the popular vote, the larger states would still be the major battleground because candidates could still pick up the most votes there.

At least this way - using the antiquated, somewhat undemocratic electoral college - Utahns and voters from other small states have the tiny consolation of bragging that their vote was worth two or three times as much as the votes from bigger states.

Keep that in mind when on Jan. 4, Vice President George Bush oversees the Senate count of the electoral ballots and - thanks to help from his "powerful" supporters in Utah - declares himself the winner.