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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

Legislative Building, State of Washington, December 17, 2012
Legislative Building, AKA Washington State Capital
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, a mere Alternate, received a letter from one of them; you may recall my December 15 diary about that letter, I was asked to be faithless. In addition, you can read 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. 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.

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.

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
Washington Elector casts Presidential vote, December 17, 2012
and then for Joe Biden.
Washington Elector casting Vice Presidential vote, December 17, 2012

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 really interesting stuff came before the Electoral College was convened and right at the very end of the event.

Doorway, Secretary of State office, December 17, 2012
The Secretary of State's front door
The Electors and Alternates were invited to a reception in the Secretary of State's office before the ceremony. Parking spaces right in front of the Legislative Building were reserved ... but only for the 12 Electors. I had to pay to park, for which I received no reimbursement (it only cost me a few bucks). As I'll discuss later, we were reimbursed for other things.

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.

Bronze bust of George Washington, Legislative Building, December 17, 2012
Our namesake, whose nose probably wasn't this shiny
During the reception, I made sure to thank Sam, as he insisted he wished to be addressed, for the great work he did during our extended gubernatorial recounts and  court challenges in 2004. Oldtimers here at the GOS will recall that I wrote a whole lot of diaries in November and December 2004 about those recounts (I was, in a sense, the WineRev of WA-Gov '04), during which I constantly applauded Sam for both his comprehensive website and his scrupulously fair handling of the process.

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.

Washington Electors voting on voting method, December 17, 2012
Electors voting on whether to require a vote for the meeting chair
By an 8-3 margin (the straw-bringer -- he's the fellow in the tan suit, counting raised hands -- abstained), they decided to draw straws after all. In the end, the lucky(?) winner of the drawing turned out to be at-large Elector Heather Fralick of Shoreline (adjoining Seattle to the north). She was quickly briefed on the ceremony's agenda by someone from the Secretary of State's office.
Heather Fralick, chair of Washington Electoral College, reviewing meeting agenda, December 17, 2012
Chair Heather Fralick reviews the Electoral College curriculum
At noon, we all paraded up one floor from the SoS's office to the State Reception Room, a fancy, marble-paneled chamber. Awaiting the Electors were two long tables, one on each side of a lectern. Eventually, they all took their assigned seats for the event.
Washington Electors at work, December 17, 2012
Electors at work
After a brief welcome by Governor Gregoire, the Electoral College got down to business. Which, in large part, consisted of signing their names to multiple copies of multiple documents -- attendance certificates, Presidential ballots, Vice Presidential ballots, certifications of accuracy, ... All those documents then went into large envelopes, ready to be sent on their merry way to the National Archives, the state archives, somewhere safe in case the others didn't arrive at their intended destinations, and (most importantly) the House of Representatives in the Other Washington. All in all, a solemn responsibility but not intrinsically exciting at all.
Certification by Washington Electors, December 17, 2012
Electoral College certification that all the other certifications are correct
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 was one of the black Electors, as were 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.
Grifynn Clay, Elector from WA-01, receives certificate from Washington SoS Sam Reed, December 17, 2012
18-year-old Elector Grifynn Clay receiving a certificate from the SoS
Here are all 12 Electors, along with Sam Reed, our now-former camera-hog Secretary of State:
Washington Electoral College, December 17, 2012
Washington's 2012 Electoral College (plus SoS Sam Reed)
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, we're political activists one and all. We attended precinct caucuses, where we were elected to attend LD or county caucuses, where we were elected to attend Congressional District caucuses, where we were elected by CD caucus attendees. Or we were chosen by those activists who attended the Democratic state convention. But we'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. 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)
That's not exactly "we, the people", not exactly the 47%.

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.

Gail Kirk, Elector from WA-06, shows off her button-festooned shirt, December 17, 2012
Gail Kirk, Elector from WA-06, festooned
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! Among the buttons and stickers on Gail's shirt, I see support for Senator Cantwell, newly-elected Congressman Derek Kilmer (WA-06), and newly-elected State Senator Jeannie Darneille (LD-27). She also sports a "Thanks, Norm!" button, for the Representative whose seat was passed along to Kilmer, Norm Dicks.

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!

Washington Electoral College and Alternates, December 17, 2012
Washington's Electoral College and Alternates, 2012
I know you're curious ... that's me kneeling, lower left.

Originally posted to Peace Tree Farm on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 05:28 AM PST.

Also republished by PacNW Kossacks and Koscadia.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Alternate's tip jar (11+ / 0-)

    I actually had to report my $5.00 pay to the unemployment office that week.

    The customer service rep had never before been asked whether the Electoral College constituted reportable earnings.

    Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. -- K.Marx A.Lincoln

    by N in Seattle on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 02:19:51 AM PST

  •  I don't understand why (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, Navy Vet Terp

    we just don't dump the electoral college and go with popular vote for each state. That would end Gerrymandering and we win.

    I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    by cyeko on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 05:37:15 AM PST

    •  There are two reasons why it's in the Constitution (3+ / 0-)

      First.  In 1787, voting was largely limited to white males owning property, and each state decided the minimum wealth and property needed to qualify to vote. In fact, only a minority, in some states a very small minority, of white males could vote.  A popular vote would have encouraged states to dump the property owning requirements - the first states to do so could control the presidential election, as a majority of the voters in the country would be from the states with a universal - or at least a universal male - franchise.  The remaining states would then be forced to give up their property and wealth restrictions.  The electoral college guaranteed a vote to each state proportional to its population and removed this "threat" to a restrictive franchise.

      Second.  By granting an extra 3/5 vote to slave holding states, when the slaves would never be able to vote, this augmented the slave holding states representation in both the House and in the electoral college.  In fact, southern slave holding states had the most restrictive white male property owning franchise - in fact, South Carolina was the only state between 1842 and the Civil War to retain the limit of the franchise to property owners.  Thus, the slave owning aristocracy was able to dominate their states and have an undue influence on choosing the president - Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan being the prime examples.

      "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

      by Navy Vet Terp on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 06:33:53 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for being at work in our democracy (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Navy Vet Terp, N in Seattle

    Interesting diary.

    I'm becoming less and less of a fan of the EC but I admire citizens who step up and make our system work.

  •  This summer (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    N in Seattle

    We're planning on visiting the Electoral College campus with our HS age kids. It better not be one of them liberal arts schools.

  •  The Electoral College's football team sucks. (4+ / 0-)

    I saw them play the College of Cardinals once, and it was a comedy of errors.

    "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

    by JamesGG on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 06:29:21 AM PST

    •  poor coordination between the players (0+ / 0-)

      By design, the EC doesn't practice its plays together.

      The Founders set it up so that each state's Electors met once and only once. The idea was to prevent cabals and intrigues that might conspire to vote for someone inappropriate.

      Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. -- K.Marx A.Lincoln

      by N in Seattle on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 08:54:28 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for documenting this, N. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    N in Seattle

    I find it comforting that our institutions and traditions continue, no matter how chaotic our politics seem to be.

     And f*** a bunch of teahadists.

  •  This is really interesting! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    N in Seattle

    I've only had a vague idea of how the EC works, it's really neat to get behind the scenes!  Great pix, too - nice to see ordinary Americans exercising a unique duty as good citizens.  

    "Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential." - Barack Obama

    by Ricochet67 on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 07:13:51 PM PST

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