Commentary: Utah should join the National Popular Vote movement

Every Utah voter should be relevant in every presidential election.

Senate pages carry a box containing electoral college ballots before a joint session of Congress to count the votes in Washington, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017. It's official: Congress has tallied the Electoral College votes and Donald Trump has been elected president. (AP Photo/Zach Gibson)

What do three Republicans and a Democrat walking into a legislative interim committee meeting all have in common? The campaign to make everyone’s vote for president relevant, no matter where they live. The four were there on Nov. 15 to voice their support for Utah’s entry into the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPV).

Of the three Republicans, Pat Rosenstiel, a nationally recognized figure in political affairs, is from Minnesota and a Trump voter. It was a conversation years ago with Utah’s former Sen. Jake Garn that really brought NPV home for him. Garn told Rosenstiel that voter turnout in Utah had gone from the top 5 percent in the country to the bottom 10 percent because people felt their votes didn’t matter. When Garn said NPV would make Utah relevant in presidential elections, bringing Utahns out to vote again, Rosenstiel was impressed. He’s now senior consultant to the NPV campaign, traveling around the country to help state legislators learn that NPV is in everybody’s best interest, regardless of party affiliation.

Also present was Stan Lockhart, former chair of the Utah Republican Party. He was firmly in the opposition camp when his late wife Becky Lockhart, then speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, attended a NPV orientation. She told him they should look into it further, that it could be better for Utah. Some time later, Stan too attended a seminar, did the research and eventually became the Utah lobbyist for NPV.

A Republican legislator from Ogden, Rep. Jeremy Peterson, is the House Government Operations Standing Committee chair, and co-chair of its interim committee where NPV was discussed on Nov 15. Reflexively dismissive of NPV when casually told about it by a colleague, he nonetheless kept an open mind, did the homework and realized it was a policy solution Utah had needed for a long time. He’s now sponsoring NPV in the upcoming Utah legislative session.

Then there was the Democrat -- that’s me, Bunnie Keen -- who for more than 40 years in Salt Lake never did anything more politically active than vote and complain until the results of the 2016 presidential election. Now I’m a NPV volunteer with the job of informing everyday voters along the Wasatch Front of its existence and how it works.

Speaking of my job. NPV is legislation that goes into effect when states equaling the minimum 270 electoral votes required to win the presidency sign on. In the following general election, these NPV member states will appoint electors who support the nationwide, not statewide, popular vote winner. If you vote for president you’re part of the national popular vote and suddenly where you vote won’t matter, that you vote will. So far, states equaling 165 electoral votes have enacted NPV, 105 more are needed; when that happens, the nation becomes one voting district for our one national office -- the presidency.

The Founders set up the Electoral College to be reformed without an amendment by specifying in Article II section 1 paragraph 2 of the Constitution, that states decide for themselves how to appoint their electors. When entering the union, Utah chose what every other state was using: Winner-Take-All (WTA). It’s the law that gives the popular vote winner in a state all of its electoral votes and the dominant political party the advantage. There wasn’t much else to choose from back then because WTA had steamrolled all the earlier options.

But now Utah has a choice. Will it put the “redness” of its electoral votes above the diverse preferences of its individual voters? Will it maintain an electoral system that disenfranchises masses of its own voters election after election - that makes voting a waste of time for the majority because they know it’s overkill, and for the minority, too, because they know it’s a lost cause? Or will it choose a new way that makes every vote in Utah relevant by very simply awarding the presidency to the candidate with the most votes everywhere?

NPV may be a long shot by 2020, but not impossible if you contact your legislator and say: Every Utah voter should be relevant in every presidential election, make the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact Utah’s choice.

Links for contacting your Utah State Legislators are easily available on the local website: www.NationalPopularVoteUTAH.org, the Utah Legislature’s website: www.le.utah.gov or call 801-538-1035 (Senate), 801-538-1029 (House).

Since graduating from the University of Utah in 1976 and making Salt Lake her home, Eileen (Bunnie) Keen has been a ballet teacher, an English teacher and a piano technician, but never an activist until November 9th, 2016.