As we look forward today 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.
You weren't an Elector, nor was I. I daresay, however, that I was a whole lot closer to matriculating at the Electoral College than any of our readers -- had Maria Ehsan, the Elector chosen at Washington's 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
The Electors -- and, I presume, Democratic Electors in all of the blue states -- were hit with both snail-mail and email. Everyone at the Washington Electoral College meeting, including the (Republican) Secretary of State, found the attempts to be little more than an amusing distraction.
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.Below the orange squiggle, you'll find more of the story, and quite a few additional photos from the Electoral College. But first, here's confirmation that the Electors did indeed vote as their fellow Washingtonians wanted them to, for Barack Obama
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 Secretary of State 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:
- SoS Sam Reed -- "the United Nations, uh, I mean United States"
- presiding Elector Heather Fralick -- "12 votes have been cast for Joe Biden as President of the United States"
The interior of the Legislative Building was all dolled up for the holidays, with a large Christmas tree in the atrium directly under the building's dome (sorry, no good pictures) and a choir of middle school students carolling away. The executive offices are, as one would expect, quite ornate. The Secretary of State seemed quite proud of the mementos and historic bric-a-brac in his office, though with more than a little bit of wistfulness in his voice. Sam Reed didn't run for re-election to a fourth term in 2012, so I doubt he got to take the stuff he'd been living with for a dozen years home with him when he left. He made sure (several times) to introduce incoming Secretary of State Kim Wyman, the only Republican elected to a statewide office in the last election. A preliminary rollcall revealed that all but one Elector was in attendance. The missing one was from WA-07 (my Elector!), undoubtedly stuck in the same I-5 backup I'd recently crawled through. Sure enough, she arrived a few minutes later, relegating me to mere observer status.
Prior to the official event, the Electors chose which of them would chair the Electoral College meeting. They had already discussed it among themselves via email, and one of the Electors had suggested making the purely ceremonial choice by drawing straws. He'd brought the materials for that procedure with him, but before the drawing started there came one of those quintessentially capital-d Democratic moments. One of the Electors objected, preferring a formal vote for the chair. To resolve that question, they held a vote on whether to conduct a vote or draw straws to choose the chair.
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. Among the Massachusetts not-Electors:
- 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 GOP consultants The Shawmut Group)
- Spencer Zwick (Tagg Romney's business partner)
- Kerry Healey (Mitt's Lieutenant Governor)
I just happened to run across the MA slates while trying to locate county or municipality election results for the dKos Prez-by-CD project, and haven't reviewed (or even looked for) any others. Therefore, I don't know whether other states more closely resemble us or them.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that you can watch Washington's Electoral College in action on TVW, the state's equivalent of C-SPAN. It runs a bit under 43 minutes. And, as promised earlier, 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!