Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Emotional Electoral College Ceremony

THIS PAST MONDAY, I attended the constitutional process of Maine's Electoral College ceremony in the Chamber of the House of Representatives at the State House in Augusta, Maine, to legally elect Democrat Barack Obama the 44th President of the United States. I dressed for the occasion. I took a ton of pictures.

And I wept.

Most of my friends know that I can't stand the Electoral College. I'm a democratic (small "d") purist. Our president ought to be elected by popular vote. One person, one vote. Look what happened in 2000. We're still paying for it.

So while I've heard most, if not all, the arguments for and against, I stand firmly against.

But it's here to stay. I can't imagine the small states ever ratifying a constitutional amendment to eliminate it. Every four years, presidential electors will perform their constitutional duty, like it or not. I wasn't about to miss this one. What I witnessed at the staid ceremony left me breathless.

I could have missed the history of the Electoral College presented by Neil Rolde. The wife of Robert O'Brien, elector at-large and my delegate roommate in Denver, whispered in my ear that Rolde needed to work on his delivery. I responded that he was a perfect symbol of the College - old, stodgy, and white. He finished by reminding us that slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person for the purposes of enumeration and representation in the House of Representatives a mere 150 years ago.

Shortly after this reminder, the electors chose a Black woman to preside over the official proceedings. Portland Mayor Jill Duson, the first Black mayor of the largest city in the whitest state in the union.

In remarks from the rostrum, Duson drew attention to the historical significance of the election of America’s first black president, evoking Barbara Jordan.

Citing the cultural shifts in our history since she attended a segregated school as a child in Pennsylvania, Duson said her role as president of a state’s Electoral College electing a Black president was stunning.

“What in the world am I supposed to say?” she asked. “I say Amen, hallelujah and well done.” Earlier, she delivered a heartfelt rendition of the National Anthem in her soothing contralto.

Jill was also an Obama delegate to Denver so I got to know her a bit. I've asked for the full text of her emotional closing remarks at the end of the ceremony and will update this post when I receive them.

Three generations of Talbots were also in the room. From a local paper just after the election:

Gerald Talbot, 77, was overwhelmed as he watched the TV coverage of Obama's triumphant speech Tuesday night. It shook him as a man and a father. He thought about the pleas he made to his children:

"You can do whatever you want to do," and, "Don't let anybody step on your neck."

Talbot, a Portland native, served as the first black man in the Maine Legislature and has written extensively on racial history. Among his works is a textbook he co-edited titled "Maine's Visible Black History."

Obama's accomplishment felt like an accomplishment for America, Talbot said.

"Your heart does cry," he said."You felt it in your heart, your soul and your mind."

Talbot hopes to attend Obama's inauguration in January, though he knows it may be a struggle getting into what may become the biggest inauguration in U.S. history.

"One of my daughters is working on it," he said.

His daughter, Rachel Talbot Ross, leads the Portland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a role Talbot himself once filled.

Rachel was also a delegate to Denver. In fact, she was the one who received the "I'm going to kill all the Black people in Maine" email right after Barack Obama was declared the nominee by acclimation in Denver. She reported the missive to the Secret Service, and within an hour, the man was arrested back here in Maine.

We don't buckle to death threats. Not after all we've been through. Ain't nobody gonna step on our necks. And so the three generations of Talbots who comprised all of the Black people in the room along with Jill, her son Nate, and myself, rose up with all the other attendees and applauded with jubilation when Jill announced that Barack Obama had officially won all four electoral votes in Maine.

It was electric. And while I snapped pictures, I cried a river.

After the ceremony ended, the electors certified the final vote, and signed the sealed envelopes which Gerald Talbot will deliver to the U.S. District Court as official messenger.

The whitest state of Maine's first Black state representative, with his offspring in tow, hand delivered the electoral college ballots for the nation's first Black president.



rikyrah said...


I can't thank you enough for taking us all on this journey. thisis the best part of blogging. I saw Denver differently because of you. I saw this process up close and personal because of you. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Craig Hickman said...

You're welcome, rikyrah. Thank you for reading.

SouthernGirl2 said...


I can only imagine how emotional it was! Wonderful pics! You always do such a great job!

Craig Hickman said...

Justice, it was stunning. It really was.

SjP said...

Much obliged for this wonderful and historical account. Frankly, before reading this, I had no idea how this process worked. Again, much obliged for letting us all see this historical moment!

Anonymous said...

Oh how wonderful! I am so happy for you and have truly enjoyed reading about your journey. Can't wait for you to go to the inauguration. I was planning on going, but I'm a Financial Analyst and quarterly estimates are due in January. sucks!

So, I will be waiting patiently for your stories of all the great fun you are going to have during this amazing time.

Thank you, Craig.

Anonymous said...

craig: WOW! An event at the HIGHEST LEVEL!! :>)


Soooo emotional!! :>)

Again, THANK YOU for,as my grandmom usta say, "TOTIN' US WITH YOU!" :>)

mvymvy said...

The major shortcoming of the current system of electing the President is that presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided "battleground" states. In 2004 two-thirds of the visits and money were focused in just six states; 88% on 9 states, and 99% of the money went to just 16 states. Two-thirds of the states and people were merely spectators to the presidential election. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the winner-take-all rule enacted by 48 states, under which all of a state's electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

The bill is currently endorsed by 1,246 state legislators — 460 sponsors (in 47 states) and an additional 786 legislators who have cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 22 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


mvymvy said...

The normal way of changing the method of electing the President is not a federal constitutional amendment, but changes in state law. The U.S. Constitution gives "exclusive" and "plenary" control to the states over the appointment of presidential electors.

Historically, virtually all of the previous major changes in the method of electing the President have come about by state legislative action. For example, the people had no vote for President in most states in the nation's first election in 1789. However, nowadays, as a result of changes in the state laws governing the appointment of presidential electors, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states.

In 1789, only 3 states used the winner-take-all rule (awarding all of a state's electoral vote to the candidate who gets the most votes in the state). However, as a result of changes in state laws, the winner-take-all rule is now currently used by 48 of the 50 states.

In other words, neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, that the voters may vote and the winner-take-all rule) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation's first presidential election.

In 1789, it was necessary to own a substantial amount of property in order to vote; however, as a result of changes in state laws, there are now no property requirements for voting in any state .

The normal process of effecting change in the method of electing the President is specified the U.S. Constitution, namely action by the state legislatures. This is how the current system was created, and this is the built-in method that the Constitution provides for making changes. The abnormal process is to go outside the Constitution, and amend it.

What the current U.S. Constitution says is "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . ." The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as "plenary" and "exclusive."

mvymvy said...

The small states are the most disadvantaged of all under the current system of electing the President. Political clout comes from being a closely divided battleground state, not the two-vote bonus.

Small states are almost invariably non-competitive in presidential election. Only 1 of the 13 smallest states are battleground states (and only 5 of the 25 smallest states are battlegrounds).

Of the 13 smallest states, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Alaska regularly vote Republican, and Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC regularly vote Democratic. These 12 states together contain 11 million people. Because of the two electoral-vote bonus that each state receives, the 12 non-competitive small states have 40 electoral votes. However, the two-vote bonus is an entirely illusory advantage to the small states. Ohio has 11 million people and has "only" 20 electoral votes. As we all know, the 11 million people in Ohio are the center of attention in presidential campaigns, while the 11 million people in the 12 non-competitive small states are utterly irrelevant. Nationwide election of the President would make each of the voters in the 12 smallest states as important as an Ohio voter.

The fact that the bonus of two electoral votes is an illusory benefit to the small states has been widely recognized by the small states for some time. In 1966, Delaware led a group of 12 predominantly low-population states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kentucky, Florida, Pennsylvania) in suing New York in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that New York's use of the winner-take-all effectively disenfranchised voters in their states. The Court declined to hear the case (presumably because of the well-established constitutional provision that the manner of awarding electoral votes is exclusively a state decision). Ironically, defendant New York is no longer a battleground state (as it was in the 1960s) and today suffers the very same disenfranchisement as the 12 non-competitive low-population states. A vote in New York is, today, equal to a vote in Wyoming--both are equally worthless and irrelevant in presidential elections.

The concept of a national popular vote for President is far from being politically “radioactive” in small states, because the small states recognize they are the most disadvantaged group of states under the current system.

As of 2008, the National Popular Vote bill has been approved by a total of seven state legislative chambers in small states, including one house in Maine and both houses in Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont. It has been enacted by Hawaii.

Craig Hickman said...

mvymvy, thanks for that great summary.

I'd heard about the National Popular Vote bill but hadn't done any research into it.

You've inspired me to do so.