Monday, December 15, 2008

Today's Electoral College Proceedings

Today, Barack Obama will be elected President of the United States. Again.

So begins the next step, when the 538 members of the Electoral College meet in their respective state capitals (and Washington, DC). In Illinois, Electors will gather at noon in the state Senate chamber where Barack Obama once served to cast their ballots and sign "Certificates of Vote." Secretary of State Jesse White will handle the rest of the proceedings.

The Constitution doesn't say much about the Electoral College's proceedings, though, which means it is largely up to each state to decide who its electors will be and how they cast their ballots.

Ohio, with 20 Obama electors, will have a color guard and musical interlude, and New York, with 31 Obama electors, plans a three-hour ceremony. In Illinois, Mr. Obama's home state, the secretary of state plans "a really short proceeding," says spokesman Henry Haupt. "I won't use the word spartan, but there's not too much ceremony."


Some states report they are receiving requests for tickets to the proceedings, but with only limited seating in their statehouses, most are referring voters to planned Web casts.

Alas, there will be no webcast of the (sparse) Electoral College ceremony here in Illinois. It is, after all, a matter of something occurring outside the state. So it's not really important.

Each state has the number of electors equal to the number of its Senators and Representatives in Congress. Illinois has 21 electoral votes. The Democratic Party’s slate of electors was announced in Denver. "In many states, including Illinois (21 Obama electors) and Michigan (17 Obama votes), the parties appoint local politicians, union or business leaders and political insiders."

The Constitution allows the state legislature to designate the method of choosing electors. 48 states, including Illinois, and the District of Columbia have adopted a winner-take-all popular vote rule; the candidate who wins the most votes in the state wins the support of all of that state’s electors. Well, that's the rule. According to the Federal Election Commission, Illinois has "No Legal Requirement" that Electors vote for the pairing who wins the popular vote in the state.

Illinois' Electors are:

Barbara Flynn Currie
John R. Daley

Connie Howard, IL-01
Carrie Austin, IL-02
Andrew Madigan, IL-03 (replaced Shirley Madigan)
Ricardo Munoz, IL-04
James DeLeo, IL-05
Marge Friedman, IL-06
Vera Davis, IL-07
Nancy Shepardson, IL-08
William Marovitz, IL-09
Lauren Beth Gash, IL-10
Debbie Halvorson, IL-11
Molly McKenzie, IL-12
Julia Kennedy Beckman, IL-13
Mark Guethle, IL-14
Lynn Foster, IL-15
John M. Nelson, IL-16
Mary Boland, IL-17
Shirley McCombs, IL-18
Don Johnston, IL-19

Under the Constitution (Art II, Sec 1, Cl 2), no person holding a federal office, either elected or appointed, may become an elector.

The next step will be for the Vice President (Dick Cheney) in his role as president of the Senate, to open the certificates from the 50 states and the District of Columbia before a joint session of Congress at 1 p.m. on Jan. 6. The entire process, as explained by the FEC, is:

Current Workings of the Electoral College [PDF]

The current workings of the Electoral College are the result of both design and experience. As it now operates:

Each State is allocated a number of Electors equal to the number of its U.S. Senators (always 2) plus the number of its U.S. Representatives (which may change each decade according to the size of each State's population as determined in the Census).

The political parties (or independent candidates) in each State submit to the State's chief election official a list of individuals pledged to their candidate for president and equal in number to the State's electoral vote. Usually, the major political parties select these individuals either in their State party conventions or through appointment by their State party leaders while third parties and independent candidates merely designate theirs.

Members of Congress and employees of the federal government are prohibited from serving as an Elector in order to maintain the balance between the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.

After their caucuses and primaries, the major parties nominate their candidates for president and vice president in their national conventions -- traditionally held in the summer preceding the election. (Third parties and independent candidates follow different procedures according to the individual State laws). The names of the duly nominated candidates are then officially submitted to each State's chief election official so that they might appear on the general election ballot.

On the Tuesday following the first Monday of November in years divisible by four, the people in each State cast their ballots for the party slate of Electors representing their choice for president and vice president (although as a matter of practice, general election ballots normally say "Electors for" each set of candidates rather than list the individual Electors on each slate).

Whichever party slate wins the most popular votes in the State becomes that State's Electors -- so that, in effect, whichever presidential ticket gets the most popular votes in a State wins all the Electors of that State. [The two exceptions to this are Maine and Nebraska where two Electors are chosen by statewide popular vote and the remainder by the popular vote within each Congressional district].

On the Monday following the second Wednesday of December (as established in federal law) each State's Electors meet in their respective State capitals and cast their electoral votes -- one for president and one for vice president.

In order to prevent Electors from voting only for "favorite sons" of their home State, at least one of their votes must be for a person from outside their State (though this is seldom a problem since the parties have consistently nominated presidential and vice presidential candidates from different States).

The electoral votes are then sealed and transmitted from each State to the President of the Senate who, on the following January 6, opens and reads them before both houses of the Congress.

The candidate for president with the most electoral votes, provided that it is an absolute majority (one over half of the total), is declared president. Similarly, the vice presidential candidate with the absolute majority of electoral votes is declared vice president.

In the event no one obtains an absolute majority of electoral votes for president, the U.S. House of Representatives (as the chamber closest to the people) selects the president from among the top three contenders with each State casting only one vote and an absolute majority of the States being required to elect. Similarly, if no one obtains an absolute majority for vice president, then the U.S. Senate makes the selection from among the top two contenders for that office.

At noon on January 20, the duly elected president and vice president are sworn into office.


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