Commentary: With National Popular Vote, every Utahn’s vote would finally matter

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Poll worker Annabel Garcia puts up signs to direct people who arrive to vote at the Salt Lake County complex for primary election day on Tuesday, June 26, 2018.

Colorado’s gotten the upper hand on Utah. Again. Not concerning water rights or outdoor recreation, but common sense.

On March 15, Colorado’s governor signed the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPV) into law. In doing so, he kept Colorado from suffering Utah’s fate: Being snubbed by candidates every presidential election cycle, because why spend precious time and money in a state you’re sure to win or lose?

Because Colorado’s voters can’t make up their minds during presidential elections (voting majority Republican one cycle, Democratic another), they have candidates crawling all over the place, spending money and making promises. But demographics in Colorado have been gradually shifting toward the liberal end of the political spectrum. That means candidates will lose interest in them too, because just like Utah, why go there if you’re sure to win or lose.

By joining NPV now, Colorado is assuring that its conservative side (and every other side) will always be relevant. Once NPV member states equal the 270 electoral votes required to win the presidency, it won’t matter what state voters live in. Whatever their party affiliation, instead of their votes being tallied only within their state borders (as currently happens due to state-winner-take-all laws), their votes will be added to all the others of the same political affiliation nationwide.

When that happens, every vote in Utah will be as powerful as every vote in Florida.

On that first election night after reaching the 270 threshold, NPV states agree to hold off awarding their electors until the number of votes counted nationwide is so overwhelmingly in favor of one candidate, the remaining votes won’t be sufficient to change the outcome. Then, NPV states will designate electors from the party of the nationwide, not the statewide, winner and, in a squeaker, even Hawaii could make a difference. No more turning off the TV and going to bed after Florida is called.

Colorado adds nine electoral votes to the Compact. Delaware and New Mexico have also passed NPV and are expecting their governors’ signatures. That’s 189 down and 81 to go on the path to 270.

Utah could add another six. That may not sound like much, but Utah could be the NPV enactment heard around the country – the first truly conservative state to enact such a common sense policy. Republican legislators in Utah who have supported NPV know this, but opponents? Not so much. So here’s the crash course:

  • NPV seeks to do what winner-take-all (the law in 48 states that gives all of a state’s electoral votes to the winner in that state) did in the 1800s, replace one state law with another. No Constitutional amendment required.

  • Voter engagement, registration and turnout (of all party affiliations) go up when voters feel their ballots are relevant as currently happens in battleground states.

  • It’s the candidate (not the party) that matters. In 2004 George W. Bush won the popular vote by carrying the 38 smaller states. U.S. census data shows populations in rural areas equal those in metro areas. Adding it’s cheaper to campaign in lower-density areas, and rural America simply can’t be ignored.

  • Neither the Electoral College nor the popular vote favors either party. Again in 2004, if John Kerry had won another 56,000 votes in Ohio, he would have won the electoral vote, even though Bush won the nationwide popular vote by a familiar number: 3 million.

  • Every presidential campaign in our nation’s history would’ve been different (possibly with different results) under a nationwide popular vote. National parties would have been forced to pick candidates who appealed to a broader swath of the nation, not just battleground states.

  • Winner-take-all puts a bull’s eye on every battleground state, signaling to bad actors that “this is the place” for election meddling, because a relatively small number of disputed votes (537 in Florida 2000 and 115 in Hawaii 1960) can affect the outcome of an entire election.

A national popular vote for president is coming. (Oregon and Nevada are on track, too.) Colorado made the common-sense decision to keep its political future nationally relevant by guarantying every single one of its voters will be too.

When will Utah have the common sense to do the same?

Bunnie Keen

Bunnie Keen grew up in Idaho, attended college in Utah and invites all fellow Utahns to go to nationalpopularvote.com and learn about how to make Utah and all other states equally relevant in presidential elections.