They may think they're voting for Barack Obama and Joe Biden, but that's not correct. Of course, they -- like Americans in the other 49 states and the District of Columbia -- will actually be voting to determine which slate of individuals will represent their state in the Electoral College. On December 17, those Electors will gather in state capitals to cast the 538 actual votes for President and Vice President.
It's possible that I, N in Seattle, will be one of those 538 voters.
Even if I don't get to sign my name to the official Certificate of Ascertainment (don't worry, I'd use my real name!), I will definitely be right there, participating in the ceremony. And I will write about the experience, both here on dKos and on the leading Washington state political blog, HorsesAss.org.
I am a Democratic Alternate Elector for Washington, chosen by my fellow delegates at last Sunday's Seventh Congressional District Caucus.
If you're interested in how that came to pass, come on down below the squiggle. I'll also talk at some length about the selection of national convention delegates.
Before voting for Elector, delegates to Washington's 10 Congressional District Democratic caucuses elected 69 Democratic National Convention Delegates. As one of 177 delegates in attendance (chosen earlier by our Legislative District caucuses), it was my job to determine which 12 people would represent WA-07 at the DNC in Charlotte. As by far the bluest district in the state, WA-07 chose many more Delegates than any other CD caucus -- eight of the other nine CDs chose either 6 or 7 Delegates, while blood-red WA-04 merited only 4.
The competition for national convention Delegate positions was fierce. In fact, more than half of the caucus delegates (almost 60 men and 50 women) were on the ballot. After each aspirant gave a one-minute speech, we voted. To combat "gaming" the vote, all ballots were required to display votes for exactly six men and six women. As a result of this procedure, our Congressional District's DNC Delegates are a splendid bunch -- young and old, black and white and Latino and Asian and Arab, gay and straight, teacher and student, union member and entrepreneur.
[h/t artistdogboy's Twitter feed]
Following the DNC voting, the caucus voted for its Elector. As mentioned earlier, each CD caucus chose one Elector, and then the state convention (about 10 days from now) would elect the Democrats' two "at-large" Electors.
There were several important procedural differences between national convention Delegate voting and Electoral College voting:
- While candidates for DNC delegate had to declare their intentions well in advance of the caucus, Elector candidates self-identified at the caucus.
- Caucus delegates could vote for one and only one Elector, rather than the N of each gender (where N was 6 of each in WA-07) in the balloting for national delegate.
- Delegate voting was by plurality while the Elector voting required a majority. The Delegate procedure is a change from previous years, and was the topic of some minor controversy. Apparently, the national party changed it from majority to plurality in this cycle, but the WA Dems hadn't made the revision in their plan. National rules supercede state rules, so we went with plurality voting. (To everyone's relief, as it made for a far shorter meeting.)
- If no one garnered a majority of the votes for Elector, there would be a second ballot pitting the top two candidates against each other.
- If the top pair were of opposite genders, the Round 2 loser would automatically be named the Alternate Elector (the selection plan says the two must be of opposite genders). If the Round 2 participants were of the same gender, the loser of that vote would get nothing, and the highest-ranked candidate of the opposite gender would become the Alternate.
Unlike the majority of my fellow CD delegates, I never had any interest in running for national Delegate. On the other hand, in the days leading up to the caucus I went back and forth with myself regarding a run for Elector. I've long been interested in process, and that perfectly describes the Electoral College. I thought I had what might be a unique and appealing "campaign plank" -- I would blog about the Electoral College experience, from the viewpoint of a participant rather than an observer. So, in the end, I threw my hat in the ring.
When the time for selecting the Elector arrived, about 20 people were in the running. We were more men than women, but not by much. I think more than a few of the others decided to run for Elector on the spur of the moment, perhaps because they hadn't won a national Delegate position (one could do both, and at least one Delegate tried it). Only a relatively small number, myself among them, had been politicking for Elector during the somewhat lengthy Delegate speechifying and voting.
The candidate pool covered a broad spectrum of backgrounds. At least two or three were former state legislators, one had been the state party chair many years ago, and others had been campaign managers, legislative assistants, and the like. Nearly all devoted their one-minute speeches to recounting their Democratic bona fides, giving a shout-out to the Legislative District they represented, stating a list of the policy issues that they were especially concerned with, and explaining how they intended to do something about those concerns. At least one candidate said he would work toward a Constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College (not my idea of a positive message when you're trying to take that very role).
I did none of that. We weren't running for an issues-, policy-, activism-based position, and our views on those topics were irrelevant to the purely-ceremonial (but Constitutionally-mandated) role we sought. My fellow candidates were still making convention-Delegate speeches, it seemed. Oh, I would have gone into my bona fides if I'd had the time -- 60 seconds fly by really fast when they're your 60 seconds. So I couldn't irrelevantly endear myself to the delegates by recounting that: a) I may be the only person in the country who voted for Mo Udall twice in 1976, b) my grandparents were Kerensky backers against Lenin, c) the first political slogan I remember is "I Like Ike" ... but my parents didn't, so neither did I, and d) I would have gone Clean for Gene if I'd had a beard in 1968.
What I did instead was to refresh everyone's memory of what the Electoral College is and does, even down to knowing that it meets on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December (12/17 this year). The Electoral College remains a mysterious, anachronistic procedure to nearly all Americans, and I pledged to open the window on it by blogging all about it. No one else stated the intention to do anything of the sort. It probably helped as well that I was the very first candidate to make my pitch.
As far as I know, nobody has ever blogged about the Electoral College from the inside, from the viewpoint of a participant. The closest I could find in a dKos diary is My son voted for Barack Obama today, which gives no information whatsoever about the ceremony itself; the diarist doesn't even mention his/her son's state. Two other 2008 diaries reflect what public observers saw of the Electoral College ceremonies in Vermont and Maine.
As you've long since figured out, I was one of the two highest vote-getters at the WA-07 caucus. "Astonished" doesn't really come close to my reaction upon hearing my name called. The other finalist was a woman, so we didn't have to concern ourselves with the loser-gets-nothing scenario. One of us would be the Elector, the other would be the Alternate Elector.
In the end, she received more votes than I did on the second ballot. So unless something untoward happens to her (I promised not to let the air out of her tires), I won't have the opportunity to affix my signature to Washington's Certificate of Ascertainment. But I will most definitely be on hand to participate as much as it is possible for an Alternate to do.
That is, if more Washington voters cast ballots for the potential Electors supporting Obama/Biden than for the Elector-candidates backing Romney/Whoever.