As we look forward to Barack Obama’s second inauguration (and fourth Oath of Office*), let us hearken back to the day he was re-elected. I refer, of course, to the Monday following the second Wednesday in December (in 2012, that was December 17). That’s when all 538 Presidential and 538 Vice Presidential votes were cast. That’s when 332 of those Electors — a clear, solid majority of the electorate — voted for the winning ticket, Obama and Biden. You may think you were voting for Obama/Biden or Romney/Ryan (or even for one of the other pairs on the ballot) on November 6, but you weren’t. In truth, you were voting for slates of Electors, who are the only Americans who actually cast Presidential and Vice Presidential ballots.
- botched by the Chief Justice in 2009
- re-administered in 2009
- privately, today
- tomorrow at noon
You weren’t an Elector, nor was I. However, I was a whole lot closer to matriculating at the Electoral College than any of our readers — had Maria Ehsan, the Elector chosen at the 7th Congressional District’s Democratic caucus back in May, been unable to attend the Electoral College meeting in Olympia, yours truly (the Alternate Elector from WA-07) would have taken her place as one of Washington’s 12 Electors.
So I was right there in the State Reception Room in Olympia’s Legislative Building at noon on December 17, peering over the shoulders of the Electors as they cast their votes. I can affirm that we had no faithless Electors in the state of Washington in 2012, despite the ridiculous efforts of teahadists to get them to change their minds. Even I, as a mere Alternate, received a letter from one of them; if you’re interested, you can read a DailyKos diary I wrote about it, as well as the letter itself (page 1, page 2). The Electors — and, I presume, Democratic Electors in all of the blue states — were hit with both snail-mail and email.
Parenthetically, in its Presidential election history since 1892, Washington has seen one faithless Elector. In 1976, when Washington backed Jerry Ford over Jimmy Carter (who, of course, won nationally), Republican Elector Mike Padden wrote Ronald Reagan on his ballot. Reagan had narrowly lost to the incumbent President in the GOP primaries and convention, and apparently Padden was still upset about it.
And where is this renegade, this apostate, now? Why, he was just re-elected to the State Senate from the 4th LD near Spokane; this lawbreaker (RCW 29A.56.340 cites a $1000 fine for faithless Electors) currently chairs the Senate Law and Justice Committee. Then again, Republicans probably think he was a savant for tossing aside Ford to choose St. Ronnie four years early.
So what was it like to participate in this Constitutionally-mandated ceremony, this unique exercise of the American system of governance? To be honest, it was a rather dull event, carefully stage-managed by Sam Reed and his staff. They had a very strict protocol to follow, directed by the National Archives. Except for a couple of verbal slips — Sam Reed: “the United Nations, uh, I mean States”, presiding Elector Heather Fralick: “12 votes for Joe Biden as President of the United States” — the really interesting stuff came before the Electoral College was convened and right at the very end of the event.
Before going into that, though, here’s proof that Washington’s Electors voted as their fellow voters asked them to:
The first order of business on the agenda was the election of a chair for the meeting. The Electors had discussed that choice via email, and one of them had suggested simply drawing straws. When they met in the Secretary of State’s office before the ceremony, however, one of the Electors objected, preferring an actual election process for that wholly ceremonial position. So they ended up holding a vote to determine how to elect their chairperson. (Oh, how capital-d Democratic of them!) That vote (see below for documentation) came out 8-3 in favor of straws, and that procedure was used to select Fralick to the position.
Later, as the ceremony wound down, several of the Electors asked to make a few remarks to the assemblage. In an emotional talk, Alec Stephens (one of the two at-large Electors) noted with great pride that we had three African-Americans and one Native American among our dozen Electors. Stephens himself is one of the black Electors, as are Georgia Spencer of WA-09 and Harvey Brooks of WA-10. The Elector from WA-08, Elisabeth Satiacum, is a member of the Puyallup Tribe. If he’d had more time to reflect on it, Stephens might also have pointed out that Grifynn Clay, the Elector from WA-01, is just 18 years old … and wasn’t yet a legal voter in May, when he was selected by his Congressional District Caucus. Here are all 12 Electors, along with Sam Reed, our now-former
camera-hog Secretary of State:
The Electoral College may be an anachronism. It’s certainly a unique feature of the American political process; no other country has anything remotely similar. And it’s certainly an honor for the small number of citizens who serve as Electors. I’m proud that Washington’s Electors (the Democrats, that is … I don’t know how the Republicans make their choices, and it hardly matters anyway) are chosen by their fellow citizens. Oh, to be sure, they’re political activists one and all. They attended precinct caucuses, where they were elected to attend LD or county caucuses, where they were elected to attend Congressional District caucuses, where they were elected by CD caucus attendees. Or they were chosen by those activists who attended the Democratic state convention. But they’re still regular people — lawyers and students, retired and unemployed, entrepreneurs and union members.
In contrast, consider Massachusetts. The Democratic and Republican slates of 11 potential Electors are shown on the second page of the Commonwealth’s Return of Votes document (PDF). I don’t recognize the names of the Democrats, though there is one Kennedy — probably not one of those Kennedys — among them. But the Republicans are another story altogether: Ann Romney (Mrs. Mitt), Tagg Romney (Mitt’s son), Eric Fehrnstrom (Mitt’s Etch-A-Sketch advisor), Beth Myers and Peter Flaherty (co-leaders with Fernstrom of The Shawmut Group, GOP consultants), Spencer Zwick (Tagg Romney’s business partner), Kerry Healey (Mitt’s Lieutenant Governor). Et al. Not exactly “we, the people”, not exactly the 47%.
I just happened to run across the MA slates while doing something else, and haven’t reviewed (or even looked for) any others. Therefore, I don’t know whether other states more closely resemble us or them. However, given that most states don’t use the sort of multi-level caucus process we enjoy here, my guess is that more of them are like the Bay State than the Evergreen State. In any case, I seriously doubt that very many Electors in Massachusetts or any other state would have cast their ballots dressed like Gail Kirk of the 6th Congressional District. At 83 and wheelchair-bound, she’s still feisty as all hell. And a hell of a Democrat. Gail was really the hit of the show, drawing much attention from her colleagues and the rest of the crowd. She wears her heart on her sleeve, and on her tee-shirt!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you can watch the Electoral College in action on TVW. It runs a bit under 43 minutes. And I must also inform you that I was paid to be an Alternate Elector. As mandated by RCW 29A.56.350:
Every presidential elector who attends at the time and place appointed, and gives his or her vote for president and vice president, is entitled to receive from this state, five dollars for each day’s attendance at the meeting of the college of electors, and ten cents per mile for travel by the usually traveled route in going to and returning from the place where the electors meet.
Although it isn’t specifically stated, this law is applied to Alternate Electors as well … a few days ago, I received a check ($18.36) from the State of Washington.
And finally, a photograph of Washington’s Electors and (most of the) Alternate Electors. This shot is much clearer and better composed than the others (which were taken by yours truly, with a cheap camera) because it was taken by Andrew Villeneuve of the Northwest Progressive Institute. Thanks, Andrew!
I know you’re curious … that’s me kneeling, lower left.