Seventeen men and women are meeting in Lansing today, in a session presided over by Lt. Gov. John Cherry, and cast our votes for President. In Ohio, electors will vote to the accompaniment of a color guard and a musical interlude. In Pennsylvania and New York, there will be long and involved ceremonies. But in Iowa, the seven electors will just troop into a conference room, vote, and go home.
What’s happening today is, in fact, the real presidential election, the one that officially counts. What we the people did in November was to choose 365 electors pledged to Barack Obama and Joe Biden, and 173 pledged to John McCain and Sarah Palin.
We think that‘s what the vote will be today. But there are sometimes surprises. Four years ago, one of John Kerry‘s electors voted for John Edwards instead. In 2000, one elector refused to vote at all. Back in 1976, one of President Ford’s electors voted for Ronald Reagan instead. None of these so-called faithless electors has ever made a difference in the outcome.
By the way, this wasn’t how the founding fathers intended for this to work. They were wise, but they were naïve in that they didn’t foresee political parties. They thought we, or more accurately the legislature, would choose the wisest people in our state.
They then would get together, probably over some Madeira, and choose the best man in the country to lead us. If nobody got a nationwide majority, the House of Representatives would then pick the President from the top three candidates.
However, it took about five minutes for political parties to take this over. For many years, the electors have been nominated by the parties, and are expected to vote for that party’s candidates for president and vice-president if they win the popular vote in the state.
Mostly, the electors are relatively unknown party stalwarts, though this year, two of them are Teamsters leader James Hoffa and United Auto Workers’ president Ron Gettelfinger.
There are those who want to do away with the electoral college, and have the president elected by the national popular vote.
But if that were the case, Sterling Heights and Ada and Owosso would never see a candidate for president. Neither would Nevada.
They would spend all their time in TV studios, or in major metropolitan areas. What if we got rid of the electors themselves, the people, and have the awarding of electoral votes be automatic?
I don’t like that either. Some day, if our nation lasts long enough, some winning candidate for president will die, or have to be replaced between the day the people vote and the electoral college meets. When that day comes, the electors that year may have to do the job the founders intended, and pick the best person for the job.
And I think George Washington would like that.