Making it official: The Electoral College vote

By Meredith Wood Smith of Portland, Oregon. Meredith is chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon and one of Oregon's seven Electoral College Electors pledged to Barack Obama.

Today's vote of the Electoral College is one of the greatest honors of my life. I will represent the more than one million Oregonians who voted with the great majority of Americans for Senator Obama as our next president.

I'm honored to uphold this responsibility and thankful for the process that got us here.

The Electoral College system guarantees that Oregon, like the other small-population states, still plays an important role in presidential elections.

The founders of our nation understood the importance of giving a voice to smaller states, to prevent them from being ignored by presidential campaigns, and from occupants of the White House.

They recognized that if the President were chosen by simple popular vote, candidates would likely spend all their time in a few populous states, and less populous regions like ours might get short shrift.

This year's campaign vividly demonstrated what the Electoral College means for Oregon.

Both Senator Obama and Senator McCain visited Oregon several times - in fact, Senator Obama drew his first stadium size crowd here - and Senator Obama's decision to build on Democratic Party Chair Howard Dean's “50 State Strategy” energized electorates all over America.

Beyond his visits, here's what Obama's campaign meant to Oregon:

13 Obama field offices, from Portland to Pendleton to Medford to the Oregon Coast.

Chairman Dean and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi headlined a series of leaders who campaigned throughout Oregon.

Our offices overflowed with thousands and thousands of grassroots volunteers who knocked on doors, made phone calls, wrote letters, and organized their communities.

The result: Senator Obama ran away with Oregon's seven electoral votes. And now, President-Elect Obama has a familiarity with and an appreciation for our state that otherwise might not exist.

These seven electoral votes don't belong to me and our other six electors.

They belong to the people of Oregon. We're honoring Oregonians' vote, and honoring a process that assures a meaningful voice for every state in the Union.

Whether one agreed or disagreed with the majority who elected Senator Obama, we all can feel proud that we followed our founders' rules, that we now see an orderly transition to a new administration, and that we know we were heard.

And I, as a Democrat who's been heartsick at the mistakes my country has made over the last eight years, look forward with real hope to a new day for America.

Editor's note: In addition to Meredith Wood Smith, Oregon's seven Electors are:

Frank Dixon, DPO Vice-Chair, Portland
Mike Bohan, DPO Congressional District 1 Chair, Beaverton
John McColgan, DPO Congressional District 2 Chair, Joseph
Joe Smith, DPO Congressional District 3 Chair, Portland
Shirley Cairns, DPO Congressional District 4 Chair, Oakland
Barney Gorter, DPO Congressional District 5 Chair, Milwaukie

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    As I've pointed out, the electoral college isn't just to ensure that small-population states get visited, it's also a firewall against vote stealing.

    Believe it or not, stuffing ballot boxes has a pre-Diebold history. But no matter how corrupt a state government is, when you have an electoral college, corrupt state officials can't affect more than the vote of their own state. So if Louisiana, or Illinois, or any other state has some corrupt county election official, they can't cancel the vote of Oregonians. When you have a pure national system, they can.

    So congratulations, Meredith and all you other lucky electors. Enjoy the benefits of your above and beyond the call of duty volunteerism.

  • susan (unverified)

    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 1,181 state legislators — 439 sponsors (in 47 states) and an additional 742 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.


  • susan (unverified)

    the 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."

    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, in the nation's first election, the people had no vote for President in most states, it was necessary to own a substantial amount of property in order to vote, and 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). Since then, as a result of changes in state laws, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states, there are no property requirements for voting in any state, and the winner-take-all rule is used by 48 of the 50 states.

    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.

  • susan (unverified)

    The potential for political fraud and mischief is not uniquely associated with either the current system or a national popular vote. In fact, the current system magnifies the incentive for fraud and mischief in closely divided battleground states because all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who receives a bare plurality of the votes in each state.
    Under the current system, the national outcome can be affected by mischief in one of the closely divided battleground states (e.g., by overzealously or selectively purging voter rolls or by placing insufficient or defective voting equipment into the other party’s precincts). The accidental use of the butterfly ballot by a Democratic election official in one county in Florida cost Gore an estimated 6,000 votes ― far more than the 537 popular votes that Gore needed to carry Florida and win the White House. However, even an accident involving 6,000 votes would have been a mere footnote if a nationwide count were used (where Gore’s margin was 537,179). In the 7,645 statewide elections during the 26-year period from 1980 to 2006, the average change in the 23 recounts was a mere 274 votes.

  • susan (unverified)

    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.

    Most of the medium-small states (with five or six electoral votes) are similarly non-competitive in presidential elections (and therefore similarly disadvantaged). In fact, of the 22 medium-smallest states (those with three, four, five, or six electoral votes), only New Hampshire (with four electoral votes), New Mexico (five electoral votes), and Nevada (five electoral votes) have been battleground states in recent elections.

    Because so few of the 22 small and medium-small states are closely divided battleground states in presidential elections, the current system actually shifts power from voters in the small and medium-small states to voters in a handful of big states. The New York Times reported early in 2008 (May 11, 2008) that both major political parties were already in agreement that there would be at most 14 battleground states in 2008 (involving only 166 of the 538 electoral votes). In other words, three-quarters of the states were to be ignored under the current system in the 2008 election. Michigan (17 electoral votes), Ohio (20), Pennsylvania (21), and Florida (27) contain over half of the electoral votes that will matter in 2008 (85 of the 166 electoral votes). There are only three battleground states among the 22 small and medium-small states (i.e., New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Nevada). These three states contain only 14 of the 166 electoral votes. Anyone concerned about the relative power of big states and small states should realize that the current system shifts power from voters in the small and medium-small states to voters in a handful of big states.

    Recent polls show a high level of support for a nationwide election for President in Vermont (75%), Maine (71%), Rhode Island (74%), and Arkansas (74%). More than 70% of the American people have favored a nationwide election for President since the Gallup poll started asking this question in 1944. The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. This recent national result is similar to recent statewide polls in California (69%), Connecticut (73%), Massachusetts (73%), Michigan (70%), and Missouri (70%).

  • susan (unverified)

    The 11 most populous states contain 56% of the population of the United States and that a candidate would win the Presidency if 100% of the voters in these 11 states voted for one candidate. However, if anyone is concerned about the this theoretical possibility, it should be pointed out that, under the current system, a candidate could win the Presidency by winning a mere 51% of the vote in these same 11 states — that is, a mere 26% of the nation’s votes.

    Of course, the political reality is that the 11 largest states rarely act in concert on any political question. In terms of recent presidential elections, the 11 largest states include five “red” states (Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia) and six “blue” states (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey). The fact is that the big states are just about as closely divided as the rest of the country. For example, among the four largest states, the two largest Republican states (Texas and Florida) generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Bush, while the two largest Democratic states generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Kerry.

    Moreover, the notion that any candidate could win 100% of the vote in one group of states and 0% in another group of states is far-fetched. Indeed, among the 11 most populous states, the highest levels of popular support were found in the following seven non-battleground states: ● Texas (62% Republican), ● New York (59% Democratic), ● Georgia (58% Republican), ● North Carolina (56% Republican), ● Illinois (55% Democratic), ● California (55% Democratic), and ● New Jersey (53% Democratic).

    In addition, the margins generated by the nation’s largest states are hardly overwhelming in relation to the 122,000,000 votes cast nationally. Among the 11 most populous states, the highest margins were the following seven non-battleground states: ● Texas — 1,691,267 Republican ● New York — 1,192,436 Democratic ● Georgia — 544,634 Republican ● North Carolina — 426,778 Republican ● Illinois — 513,342 Democratic ● California — 1,023,560 Democratic ● New Jersey — 211,826 Democratic

    To put these numbers in perspective, Oklahoma (7 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 455,000 votes for Bush in 2004 — larger than the margin generated by the 9th and 10th largest states, namely New Jersey and North Carolina (each with 15 electoral votes). Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 votes for Bush in 2004.

    Under a national popular vote, a Democratic presidential candidate could no longer write off Kansas (with four congressional districts) because it would matter if he lost Kansas with 37% of the vote, versus 35% or 40%. Similarly, a Republican presidential candidate could no longer take Kansas for granted, because it would matter if he won Kansas by 63% or 65% or 60%. A vote gained or lost in Kansas is just as important as a vote gained or lost anywhere else in the United States.

    Although no one can predict exactly how a presidential campaign would be run if every vote were equal throughout the United States, it is clear that candidates could not ignore voters in any state. The result of a national popular vote would be a 50-state campaign for President. Any candidate ignoring any particular state would suffer a political penalty in that state.

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    I think '06 and '08 showed that there is a lot more than battle ground or swing states.

    Also, we've made major changes since 2004. You can't keep using those numbers - you need to look at 2006 and 2008 where money spent was distributed over more states, Dems won or came close in states where they were beaten badly in the past, etc.

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    susan: The potential for political fraud and mischief is not uniquely associated with either the current system or a national popular vote. In fact, the current system magnifies the incentive for fraud and mischief in closely divided battleground states because all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who receives a bare plurality of the votes in each state.

    By their very nature, closely divided "battleground" states tend to have strong parties on both sides and a divided state government. Fraud is much harder to pull off in such a political environment. Further, if certain states are "battleground" states, then there will also be national attention applied to them.

    This monitoring is impossible under the system you propose. A national popular vote means there is no place safe against vote fraud, and that guarantees that somewhere, most likely in a deeply partisan area, where there are no monitors, and no press, it's going to happen.

  • rc (unverified)


    First off, I am SOOOooo EXTREMELY happy that you are casting your electoral votes for Obama that you don't know.

    But to use that as an opportunity to celebrate the electoral college - which undermines the princple of one-person-one-vote, which leads to whole regions being ignored during campaigns, and which gives rural america undue influence over our government's control- is totally off the mark and perhaps the only way you could have conceivably made an event that we should all be celebrating and immensely proud of ---into something that is potentially controversial, decisive, and unproductive.

    Please, progressive community, let's be smart. Let's be savvy. Let's NOT begin w/ infighting - or the mere precursors of the beginnings of a potential infight- until, AND ONLY UNTIL, we have advanced our common agenda to the fullest, and until we have 100% exhausted our common ground.

    The alternative - the empirically-immune, troglodyte, market-fundamentalist, theocratic Republican, Know-Nothing, Party - is just unacceptable.

    Progressives- let's please be smarter about what we write about.

    Let me be clear: I do not want to sandbag this author. She makes some valid points (even if I do disagree with some of them).

    My point is only that we need to stay AS united as possible for AS LONG as possible... So let's just put aside all of the old and less-important debates that have thusfar proven unfruitful ...and instead, let's collectively direct all of our focus onto the absolutely most important and pressing debates of our time, because frankly, there are so many of these debates that we need to have that giving our time to anything but those most important, future-looking debates - is simply irresponsible (not to mention a non-productive, and politically self-defeating) governance style.

    We have a honey moon that we need to capitalize on.

    ....Okay- so i got a little bent out of shape after reading this post perhaps because the author was able to pull up the one thing that would make me unhappy about the event that is her casting her electoral votes for Obama.

    I hope folks don't think I overdid it... We just really all need to realize that we have to be extremely thoughtful about our coalition - because that's what we are - staying unified and steadfast as we (and Barack) move forward to address the huge issues that have been ignored for literally decades.

    Let's do it, folks! I know we can!!!

  • Andrew Kingsley (unverified)

    In 2008, only one of the 12 least populous states -- New Hampshire -- was the recipient of general election ad spending and campaign visits. And while there were 12 visits in New Hampshire, there were nearly 62 in Ohio whose population equals that of the 12 smallest states combined. In Oregon, turnout decreased from 2004 by nearly 5% due to its shift from a ‘swing’ to ‘spectator’ state. (SOURCE: CNN, the Washington Post.)

  • Ole Barn (unverified)

    The pride that a person feels representing the voting will of the citizens of the State of Oregon at the Electoral College was being expressed by Meredith Wood-Smith. The essay by Susan withstanding, participating in such an event must be put down as one of the highlights of any persons life. The will of the people was carried out.

    Al Gore lost the Florida electoral vote and thereby, the presidential election, because of bad tactics.

    If the U.S. Constitution is going to be changed via the amendment process, so be it. However, until then we must live with the system we have.

    I feel an immense amount of pride in having been one of the electors this cycle. This is truly a historic moment for our country.of of of of of

  • Chang (unverified)

    Is it just me or does anyonelse (despite laws to the contrary) love it when an elector goes crazy and votes for a different candidate? I am hoping that there is at least vote for the governor of Illinois, the congressman who had money in his freezer and Sarah Palin (just so SNL will be funny once more.)

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    (just so SNL will be funny once more.)

    Maybe........if they fired Lorne Michaels at the same time. SNL hasn't been funny since around 1978........

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    does anyonelse (despite laws to the contrary) love it when an elector goes crazy

    <h2>I think it was the cycle when Dukakis got stomped, there were some NM votes for George McGovern, which was a helpful spot of cheer!</h2>
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