Cushman: We Need to Change Utah’s Presidential Election System


(Design by David Onwukeme | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By KC Ellen Cushman, Opinion Writer


With most ballots counted already, it looks like Donald Trump has won around 58% of the popular vote in Utah and Joe Biden will receive around 37%. As final ballots are counted, those numbers are subject to change, but what we do know is that — though hundreds of thousands of Utahns voted for Joe Biden — Donald Trump won the state of Utah by a significant margin. Despite the fact that many Utahns supported Joe Biden, he will not receive a single one of Utah’s six electoral college delegates.

Utah’s winner-take-all electoral college system means that the winner of a state’s popular vote — even if they only win by a few hundred or thousand votes — will receive all of that state’s electoral delegates. Forty-eight states, including Utah, operate under this system. But don’t let’s is wide usage fool you — this system allows the electoral college to ignore the will of the country and increases the power of swing state votes, which drowns out minority voices in states like Utah.

In 2000, the United States had an extremely close election, even closer than the 2020 election that has kept every American on the edge of their seat. Democratic candidate Al Gore won the popular vote but lost in the electoral college due to the results of a single state, Florida. Despite winning the popular vote, Al Gore ultimately conceded the election to Bush after a controversial supreme court decision. Gore’s concession helped heal some of the political strife in the country and led to 80% of Americans seeing the election’s results as legitimate.

In 2016, a Republican candidate once again entered the oval office without winning the popular vote. Donald Trump became our president even though Hillary Clinton won 2.8 million more votes. The 2016 race, like this year’s election, came down to key battleground states with small differences in swing states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Since 2016, the nation has in many ways felt more divided than ever and extreme political division is threatening the safety and unity of Americans. When Trump entered office, thousands of people marched on Washington D.C. and protested around the country in the largest single-day protest in U.S. history — the 2017 Women’s March.

We grant our elected leaders power by voting them into office. We consider them legitimate because our communities actively choose them. Having an electoral college that can ignore the will of the people — and has done so in two recent elections — only damages our democracy. It takes power and choice away from the American people and delegitimizes administrations without popular support.

Though it took days for the results of our 2020 presidential election to be clear, Biden has become our president-elect with a sizable margin of victory over President Trump. Trump is still refusing to concede — he has launched multiple lawsuits and falsely made accusations of widespread voter fraud. This kind of behavior from the leader of our country is a direct attack on our democracy. It gives his supporters reason to delegitimize Biden’s victory even though he won the popular vote and has enough votes from the electoral college. It also unjustifiably calls into question the integrity of our electoral process which could have consequences for many elections to come. Our democracy is in danger due to the rhetoric and actions of our president and our electoral system is making it worse.

We deserve to choose our president. We deserve to have our votes matter. Election night shouldn’t be spent anxiously counting each candidate’s path to 270 delegates with a singular focus on swing states. Democratic voters in red states like Utah and Republican voters in blue states like California shouldn’t cast their votes knowing they won’t matter because their state’s delegates will almost certainly all go to a particular candidate. We should spend election night knowing we voted our conscience and knowing that it will matter in red states, blue states and swing states.

Knowing that the electoral college does not represent the votes of Americans and inflates the importance of ballots in swing states should be enough to know that we need a change. Luckily there is a precedent — two states, Maine and Nebraska, do not use our archaic winner-take-all system. Those two states award delegates through the “congressional district method,” meaning that some delegates are given to the state’s overall vote winner, while some are given to the winner of specific districts. While this system does not give delegates out in perfect proportion with the final vote count of that state, it does make the electoral college much more representative of the people in Maine and Nebraska.

Utah is a conservative state and will likely vote for Republican presidents every time in the near future. But that doesn’t mean liberal voters in Utah shouldn’t have a voice. Biden won over a third of our state’s vote this election. That should have been enough to earn some of our electoral college delegates. As a liberal voter in a red state, I often feel that I have no say in the direction of my state and country. Utah needs to change the way it divides electoral delegates to empower voters and guarantee that every Utahn has the opportunity to enact change with their ballot.


[email protected]