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Two proposals that would change how Utahns help elect the U.S. president fizzled Wednesday.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, placed before the House Government Operations Committee two versions of his HB509. One would allow Utahns to directly vote for the five people who cast the state's official votes in the Electoral College. Another would have Utah join a compact of states that pledges to give electoral votes to whoever wins the national popular vote.
The committee decided against both versions, voting 7-3 to hold the bill but recommend it for further study during the year.
"We have come far, far from the original constitutional process" of electing presidents, Powell said, adding that he believes either option would be an improvement.
He said the current process gives Utah's five electoral votes six in the 2016 presidential election to people selected by the party of the candidate who wins the state's popular vote. He said that creates a winner-take-all system in which many Utahns do not bother to vote because they figure it doesn't matter in a state that is overwhelmingly Republican. He said presidential candidates ignore the state for the same reason.
Powell said allowing people instead to directly elect the five official electors could give some votes to the minority and would be closer to the original process outlined in the Constitution.
The other proposal would have Utah join a pact among states that vows to give its electoral votes to whoever wins the popular vote. It would take effect only when enough states have joined to jointly control a majority of the Electoral College votes.
Powell said that would make all votes nationwide count equally and encourage people of all parties to vote. Pat Rosenstiel, a spokesman for the National Popular Vote organization, said candidates could not safely ignore any state because all votes count.
GOP officials have opposed it, saying it would still make candidates focus on big-population cities and states, and still likely ignore Utah. The conservative Eagle Forum of Utah also opposed it at the hearing, arguing it gives up too much power by the state.