The House Government Operations Committee wasn’t ready Thursday to require Utah’s official presidential electors to vote for whomever wins the popular vote in the state.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, guesses that most Utahns assume state law commits electors to reflect the majority will, but it doesn’t. His HB299 would force that result, and make it a Class A misdemeanor for an elector to try to go rogue.
But the committee voted unanimously Thursday to hold the bill, to give King time to answer more questions about whether it is wise to mess with a system designed by the Founding Fathers.
"It would seem it is more of our duty to understand," said Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, "why they did it that way in a profound period of political rebirth that has virtually changed the world."But King said much has changed in 200 years since the Electoral College was set up, including better public education and the franchisement of many new voters, including those who were not landowners, people of color, women and young people — and politics has evolved so that most voters expect electors to cast ballots for their state’s winner.
King said Utah law now requires electors chosen by the winner’s political party to vote for that party’s candidate. But it provides no penalty for shirking that mandate, and says that an elector voting for someone else is considered to have resigned and will be replaced.
But King said situations could arise where someone not in a major political party — such as independent Ross Perot in 1992 — could have won the state, and the law should be changed to ensure the winner gets the electoral votes. He added that enacting a criminal penalty for a rogue elector would also help them keep faith.
King said he will attempt to do more historical research, and come back to the committee for a vote.
Cases of faithless electors are rare. Rep. Kevin Grover, R-Provo, said it has happened only nine times since 1948, so he said King’s bill may be "a solution in search of a problem."
Utah has six electoral votes for president — one for each member of Congress. The nation has 538 electors, and a majority of 270 is needed to win.
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