OLYMPIA – Forget what the news media told you six weeks ago: Barack Obama was elected to his second term as president Monday.
His election was finalized through a process that the Founding Fathers dreamed up in 1787 and has confounded Americans pretty regularly since.
The Electoral College – which doesn’t have a mascot, a fight song or even a campus – met at noon Monday in state capitals around the nation and awarded votes to Obama or Mitt Romney based on the general election results.
Each state gets one elector for each member of the U.S. House of Representatives and senator, so in Idaho, the four votes were cast for Republican Mitt Romney, even though the former Massachusetts governor has no chance of moving into the White House.
In Washington, where a majority of votes were cast for Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, 12 men and women selected by Democratic activists gathered in the Capitol’s marble-walled Reception Room to do the official work of casting the Evergreen State’s ballots, which mostly involved signing their names to multiple sheets of paper with official writing and seals.
A bit tedious to watch, maybe, but exciting to be part of, electors said. Harvey Brooks, 70, of University Place, recalled growing up with segregation and his mother asking him when he was going to help change the nation. He said he told her the country would change when it elects an African-American president.
Now it has truly changed, Brooks said, because it not only elected an African-American president, but a majority re-elected him, and many didn’t seem to care about his race: “They just cared he was a good man.”
Rick Lloyd, of Spokane Valley, an elector from Eastern Washington’s 5th District, called it “a great, great feeling.” He drove across the state Saturday ahead of a winter storm to avoid getting stuck on the other side of Snoqualmie Pass, and said he’d probably return via Portland.
Some people call the Electoral College an anachronism, and plans to alter it or allow the presidency to go to the winner of the nationwide popular vote crop up, usually in the months before a presidential election.
Lloyd said he’s heard the complaints but thinks it’s generally served the nation well during its history. “I’m not going to be second-guessing the Founding Fathers,” he said.
Travis Ridout, the Thomas S. Foley Distinguished Professor of Government and Public Policy at Washington State University, said the Electoral College today isn’t exactly what the Founders intended back in 1787. They expected voters would choose “enlightened citizens” as electors, who knew all the presidential candidates and would use their judgment when they met to pick the best one.
Now electors are chosen by political parties, and many states have laws against “faithless electors” who cast a ballot for someone other than their state’s majority choice. Washington also has a law that says if states with a total of at least 270 electoral votes agree, the state’s electors will cast their ballots for the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of their state results.
That was most popular after 2000, particularly with Democrats, after Al Gore won the popular vote but George W. Bush won the Electoral College vote, Ridout said. So far, only eight states and the District of Columbia – with a total of 132 votes – have signed on, so the chance of any change under that plan may be several presidential elections in the future.