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Electoral Vote Helped, Hurt In Early Utah
Will Bagley
Published: 11/19/2000 Edition: Final Section: Utah Page: B1

The current presidential non-election is a political disaster that may evolve into a full-blown constitutional crisis, but for historians it is an unexpected windfall. Experts on the Electoral College and the presidencies of Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison are in tall clover. After all, Americans probably no longer wonder "Rutherford who?" when asked which presidents have been elected even though they came in second on the popular vote. Political aristocrats like Alexander Hamilton devised the Electoral College system in the 1780s to make sure wealthy white males and not the great unwashed selected the president.

The election of Andrew Jackson (after already winning the popular vote but losing the presidency in 1824) made such attitudes appear reactionary even in 1828. Historically, the direct consequences of the Electoral College to Utah might call for further reflection. Before they came to Utah, Mormon leaders used the system to increase their political influence. For example, Brigham Young believed James K. Polk owed his election to the delivery of the LDS Church's bloc vote in New York by political operatives Sam Brannan and David Rogers.

Young, a lifelong Democrat, was so pleased with Polk's triumph he commended Rogers in December 1844 for "your course in the late Presidential Election" which gave the Saints "many pleasing reflections. The Democratic banner floats again triumphant over our Country. God grant that it ever may." During their long fight to win statehood for Utah, Mormons were not so delighted with the Electoral College, especially when it installed two anti-Mormon Republican presidents in 1876 and 1888. Both had lost the popular vote.

In 1876, Utah's congressional delegate, George Q. Cannon, assured Samuel Tilden, the Democratic candidate who had won the popular vote, that if he supported statehood for Utah he would "reap the gratitude of the people," implying that the Democrats could then count on Utah's votes until the millennium. But President Hayes promised Southern electors to withdraw federal troops from the then-occupied Confederate states if they backed him, and the end of Reconstruction brought renewed focus on "the Mormon problem."

Having already defeated slavery, one of the "twin relics of barbarism" denounced in their original platform, Republicans now went after the second relic, polygamy. Hayes attacked Mormon theocracy and endorsed denying the vote to anyone who believed in polygamy. The Republican assault drove the Mormons further into the arms of the Democrats. In 1888, the LDS Church secretly gave $25,000 to Grover Cleveland's re-election campaign. Two Utah historians unfairly characterized this as "part of a pattern of political contributions and payoffs," but it was, after all, merely a campaign donation. And since Cleveland made Utah a state in 1896, it probably worked.

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To show that every vote matters, historian Will Bagley voted for neither Al Gore nor George Bush.

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