Every four years around presidential election time, the Electoral College gets attention for a few weeks, then fades into the fog of obscurity for four more years. But who are Oregon’s seven electors, how did they become electors and what do they do?
President Obama’s victory this week does not automatically make him president for four years, but it kicks off a long and formal process that leads up to his inauguration at noon Jan. 20, 2013. Seven electors will (ideally) represent us and cast their votes for Obama and Biden in Salem Dec. 17.
Oregon’s electors are all stalwart and loyal Democratic leaders in the state: Meredith Wood Smith, chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon; Frank Dixon, first vice-chair of the DPO; Mike Bohan, chair of the 1st Congressional District Committee; Michael Miles, chair of the 2nd District; Joe Smith, chair of the 3rd District; Shirley Cairns, chair of the 4th District; and Sam Sappington, chair of the 5th District.
These electors have pledged to follow the party line, but are legally free to vote for anyone they want. Their longtime loyalty to the Democratic Party makes “going rogue” unlikely, says Scott Bartlett of Eugene, who was on the slate of electors in 1988 and 1992 representing the 4th District.
“It was fascinating to participate in this formal ritual of our nation’s self-government from the ground level,” says Bartlett. “As a perk of this, I was invited to the inauguration and had a pair of fantastic front section seats, right below the inauguration stand, enabling me to watch Bill Clinton take the swearing-in oath.”
How did Bartlett earn his status as an elector? Bartlett says he got involved in political campaigns as a student back in 1966 for Charlie Porter’s congressional race, worked on Wayne Morse’s Senate campaign full-time for 13 months in the 1970s and has been involved in dozens of national, state and local campaigns since, including City Councilor Betty Taylor’s re-election campaign.
“You have to pay your dues,” he says, and becoming an elector is an honor for years of service.
So what’s next? Once election results are certified, Gov. Kitzhaber has until Dec. 17 to prepare and submit seven Certificates of Ascertainment confirming the electors. The electors meet in Salem Dec. 17 to sign, seal and record their votes for both president and vice-president, which are then paired with the certificates and sent to the president of the Senate (Joe Biden) by Dec. 26. Congress meets Jan. 6 to count the votes, and barring complications, inauguration day is Jan. 20. No problem this time, but one complication would be no candidate getting 270 votes, in which case the House of Representatives would decide the election, picking from the top three electoral vote-getters.
The Electoral College dates to our nation’s founding and attempts have been made to update it, fix the quirks or even abolish it, and complicating the process are the different rules states have for selecting and dealing with electors. In Oregon, for example, all seven electoral votes go to the winning candidate.