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Williams: Utah voters have little clout

Published November 13, 2012 4:14 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If Utah is home, your vote in last week's presidential election had the least impact of any in the country. Indeed, a voter in Florida had 38 times your power, thanks to the Electoral College.

The Electoral College is archaic and obsolete, and must go for every vote to count equally.

Two main factors alter the weight a vote carries: number of residents per electoral vote and election margin of victory. Influence increases if fewer citizens decide each electoral vote, and also as elections are more contested. It's difficult to quantify these factors, but we all know that swing states carry more clout than Utah. Neither Obama nor Romney paid much attention to Utah, especially compared to swing states like Ohio.

The number of electoral votes awarded to each state is equal to its sum of senators and representatives in the House. Each state has two senators while the number of representatives is determined by population, so less populous states have fewer residents to each electoral vote.

Voters in California and New York are at a disadvantage, even if winning those states carries a huge gain for candidates. Utah is slightly (6 percent) below the national average for residents per electoral vote.

Mitt Romney won 73 percent of the Utah vote compared to Barack Obama's 25 percent. That margin dwarfed Obama's 50-to-48 percent win in the popular vote, making Utah a sure thing. Conversely, Florida's 29 electoral votes were decided by 47,000 out of 8.2 million votes cast.

Weigh the two factors equally, sprinkle in some algebra, and the conclusion is astonishing.

All eight of CNN's "battleground states" appear in the top 11 of the influence rankings, and each carries at least six times the influence of votes cast in Utah. The top seven states all carry 10 times Utah's influence, and opinions of Florida voters somehow matter 38 times as much as those in Utah.

The result of this inequality is substantial. Less than one-third of Utah's 3 million voters participated in the election, and to little effect, whereas 43 percent and 46 percent of voters in Florida and Ohio, respectively, made it to the polls.

Applying the same analysis to the narrowly won popular vote gives every American approximately the same impact as voters in the swing state of Ohio, a tenfold increase for 14 states and 23 times more sway for Utahns.

The Electoral College had three effects on the 2012 presidential election.

First, it proclaimed that citizens of all states are not created equal and their votes are not counted as such. Next, it caused constituents in less significant states to stay home rather than partake of the great gift of democracy. Lastly, it calculated that a difference of 2 percent in the popular vote was enough to declare Obama our president for the next four years by the landslide margin of 332-206.

C Jake Williams, a 2008 graduate of Utah State University, attends medical school at Touro University in Henderson, Nevada.