No change of plans: Electors vote Obama

Votes sent to Cheney, who declares winner after Congress counts ballots Jan. 6

December 16, 2008|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

There was little left to chance at yesterday's gathering of Maryland's electors. The ballots recording their choice of Barack Obama for president and Joe Biden for vice president were printed in advance and affixed with the state seal. The sheet cake in the hallway was adorned in blue and red icing depicting the Obama logo and the slogan "Yes We Did!"

But what the event lacked in suspense - Obama won, for the record - it made up for in emotion. Schoolchildren had the 10 electors sign their programs, and the elaborate ritual of swearing in the electors, the roll call and certification of the vote, as well as the sealing of the ballots, lent an air of occasion to the convening of the state's representatives to the Electoral College.

U.S. law dictates that the electors in each state meet on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December after an election. The results are then sent to the office of the vice president and the National Archives. Congress will meet in joint session Jan. 6 to count the electoral votes. Vice President Dick Cheney, as president of the U.S. Senate, will announce the result and declare the winners. Obama is expected to receive more than the required 270 electoral votes.

"I expect that as time moves on, the millions of people who voted for Barack Obama in November will increase, as stories are told to children and grandchildren that they were there voting for Barack Obama when change was made for America," said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, who was among the dignitaries present. "But in reality, there are only 10 people in Maryland who can say that they really voted for Barack Obama."

The electors are chosen by the Maryland Democratic Party, eight to represent each of the state's congressional districts and one for each senator. Seven electors are men, and three were women. Six are white, three are African-American, and one is Asian-American.

It was a day for American flag ties and ceremonial pens. The votes were cast in a conference room in the Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis. Normally, the grander State House would be the setting. But with renovations under way, the State House does not have an occupancy permit, and the electors would have had to wear hard hats, somewhat detracting from the dignity of the event.

At 10:30 a.m., they were sworn in by the clerk of the Court of Appeals. Each then signed a red "Test Book," which is kept by the court, affirming their oath. Then, one by one, the electors held up their right hand and announced their vote for Obama. When the last vote was cast, the students, campaign workers and others in the room burst into a standing ovation.

"To go from King to Obama, it's a wonderful feeling," said Nathaniel Exum, an elector and state senator from Prince George's County who was active in the civil rights movement. "It's wonderful to be able to see it."

The electors signed multiple copies of the "Certificate of Vote," which along with the "Certificate of Ascertainment" will be sent to the vice president's office by certified U.S. mail. Copies are kept by the state, as well, and given to the electors.

"These go to a lot of places, to Cheney of all places, and the archive," said elector and state Sen. Delores G. Kelley of Baltimore County.

"It's a delight to send this to Cheney," said Michael Barnes, an elector and former congressional representative from Montgomery County. Barnes said he and his wife cried on Election Night when Obama delivered his victory speech in Chicago's Grant Park.

"When I grew up in Montgomery County, what we are doing here today was unthinkable," Barnes said. "Barack Obama, where I grew up in the 1960s, would not have been allowed in a movie theater in Montgomery County, Maryland, or in a bowling alley in Montgomery County, Maryland. There was not a decent restaurant where blacks and whites could dine together.

"So this was unthinkable. This was inconceivable."

Students from Broadneck High School in Annapolis and the School of the Incarnation in Gambrills watched the ceremony, took photos and had their programs signed. Broadneck teacher Larry Block has been taking his American government classes to the electors' meeting since 1976. His freshmen say it leaves an indelible impression.

"In public school, we hear so much," said Molly Mason, 18, a Broadneck senior who took Block's class as a freshman. "Teachers lecture. We watch videos. But the actual experience - these freshmen will remember this for the rest of their lives."

Some of the students said they planned to attend the inauguration Jan. 20. But if they are looking for tickets, they will have to go elsewhere than to state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who officiated at yesterday's electoral meeting.

"I don't have any tickets for myself, and therefore I don't have any tickets for you," Gansler told the crowd. "I get calls all the time. People think I'm Ticketron."

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