Utah cast its six electoral votes for President Donald Trump at noon Monday, one of the last steps toward finalizing the 2020 presidential election.
Normally, the constitutionally mandated Electoral College vote is a ho-hum affair and passes with little attention. This year, Trump and his supporters have been working overtime to challenge the results of the election in an attempt to overturn his loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
Those efforts have been largely fruitless. Trump’s claims of voter fraud have been thrown out of dozens of courts for lack of evidence. But the president’s fight has brought renewed interest in Monday’s Electoral College vote.
Here’s how the process works: Utah’s official ballots will be sent to Washington, D.C., where they will be counted during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6. That will clear the way for Biden, the former vice president, to be inaugurated on Jan. 20.
Each elector signs six copies. One goes to the president of the U.S. Senate; two go to Utah’s lieutenant governor, who oversees the state’s elections; two copies are sent to the National Archives; and a backup goes to the presiding federal judge in the district where the electors meet. The final results for the 2020 Electoral College vote are posted online by the National Archives. For the curious, here’s what Utah’s six electoral votes for Donald Trump in 2016 looked like.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes pulled out as one of Utah’s electors on Monday because he was in quarantine after traveling to Washington last week. Reyes was the subject of some controversy last week when he signed on to a lawsuit brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking to stop four states from casting their electoral votes — a bid to give those states that supported Biden to Trump. That suit was rejected by the Supreme Court on Friday.
Reyes was replaced by former Utah Rep. Mia Love, who got the highest number of votes among the alternates selected at the Utah GOP convention in April.
The other electors on Monday included two former candidates for Congress — Chris Herrod, who was a candidate in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District in 2017 and 2018, and Trent Christensen, who unsuccessfully ran for the GOP nomination in the 4th District this year.
“I wish more people fully understood this process. It goes to the greatness of our country,” said Christensen. “It’s a purely constitutional duty, and not many people have a constitutional duty they get to fulfill.” Christensen says he’s happy to cast a ballot for Trump, but disappointed that he will not be the winner. But that does not dampen his enthusiasm for being a part of the process.
“The Electoral College is what allows Utah to have a voice,” he said. “Because of this process, Utah gets to be important. If not for the Electoral College, we’d probably be overlooked.”
“Our Electoral College holds itself out as the only way 50 states can have skin in the game,” said former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, who also cast a ballot for Trump on Monday.
Washington County GOP Chairman Jimi Keston and former Box Elder County Commission candidate Kris Udy were the other electors casting ballots Monday.
Not everybody is a fan of the Electoral College process, as both Trump and former President George W. Bush won the presidency while not winning the popular vote.
State Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, is the latest member of the Utah Legislature to get behind a bill to give the state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. The National Popular Vote Interstate compact is an effort to turn the presidential election into a national election rather than 50 state-level elections. If Kitchen’s bill passes, then Utah would award its six electoral votes to the national vote winner, but that only goes into effect if enough other states join to reach the 270 needed to win the presidency.
“I think there’s a real dissatisfaction for the way the presidential election works itself out every year,” says Kitchen. “This is the one elected office that represents all of America, and we need to find a way so the process more genuinely reflects the broader population.”
Salt Lake County Councilman Richard Snelgrove has twice been an elector for Utah. In 2016, he cast a ballot for Trump and in 2008 he voted for Republican John McCain.
“It’s an incredible honor because you’re one of 535 people in the country who take part in that process,” said Snelgrove, who, as an elector, attended the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2008. He was invited to Trump’s inauguration in 2016 but did not attend.
“There were some very good seats for the electors,” laughed Snelgrove. “People kept asking the person I was sitting next to for pictures and autographs. I later learned it was (Spider-Man actor) Tobey Maguire. [Former NBA superstar] Magic Johnson was a few rows behind me.
“It was an honor to see our Constitution at work,” Snelgrove said.
The electors each cast two ballots, one for president and one for vice president. In Utah, state law requires those electors to support the winner of the state’s popular vote. If an elector attempts to cast a ballot for someone other than the winner, they are immediately disqualified and an alternate will take their place. The only exceptions are for the death or felony conviction of a candidate.
In 2016, 10 members of the Electoral College went rogue and attempted to vote for someone other than the candidate who won their state. The Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that states can punish those “faithless electors” who break their pledge to support a certain candidate. Thirty-two states have laws requiring electors to vote for a particular candidate.
Snelgrove says there was a concerted effort in 2016 to pressure Republican electors across the country to not cast their ballots for Trump.
“We were getting emails, phone calls and regular mail urging us to vote for someone else,” he said.
Four years ago, anti-Trump protesters filled the room at the Utah Capitol during the Electoral College proceedings, but those efforts were in vain as the electors cast the state’s six votes for the eventual winner.
The drama surrounding the 2020 election does not end with Monday’s Electoral College vote. There is a plan in the works for Republicans in the House and Senate to challenge the electors in five states that supported Biden — Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. If one member of the House and one member of the Senate file an objection, each body of Congress will debate the issue for two hours before voting. Democrats hold a majority in the House and several Republicans in the Senate, including Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, have said they would not vote to overturn the results of the election. Democrats attempted a similar tactic in 2001 and 2016 but were unsuccessful.