Note: I would have posted this sooner but my site was hacked and it took weeks to sort things out. But I’m happy to say that I’m back!
The United States Electoral College met on Dec. 14 to decide who would be our next president. Proudly stepping up to cast her vote as an elector was none other than Hillary Clinton – failed candidate for the nation’s highest office in 2016. This is the same woman who the very next day called for the Electoral College to be abolished, but said she was glad to cast her vote for Joe Biden as president.
“I believe we should abolish the Electoral College and select our president by the winner of the popular vote, same as every other office,” Clinton tweeted shortly after doing her duty as an elector. “But while it still exists, I was proud to cast my vote in New York for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.”
I read her quote on my news feed and, well, nearly fell out of my chair.
How did Hillary Clinton get to be a member of the Electoral College – and for that matter – further research showed – her husband Bill Clinton and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo?
As an aside, missing from this year’s New York State electoral college team was New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio, who was an elector in 2016. He was booted off by Governor Cuomo, who, along with State Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs, nominated the New York state Electoral College at a meeting in September of the New York State Democratic Committee.
Jacobs said the decision was deliberate since de Blasio had run against Biden for the presidency and letting him vote would be unseemly. My words, not his.
The news about the Clintons and other Electoral College members came as a surprise to me and to my cleaning lady, who was born in Poland and, as of late, has taken a big interest in politics. We chatted about it this morning, deciding we were both naïve about such things.
“I didn’t use to care about politics at all,” she said, feather duster in hand. “Ten months ago, I was a Trump hater and then I saw the light. Now I see that politics is the same everywhere. It’s all about who you know. Connections.”
I’m pretty sure that wasn’t on her citizenship test. Clever woman picked it up on her own.
Neither she nor I had given much thought to the Electoral College, we decided, including how its members were selected. I assumed it was the average Joe or Jane who decided it was their civic duty to be able to cast the final vote for a president and then ran for the position. But I never remembered watching anyone campaign – openly – for a slot on the Electoral College or seeing names on a ballot.
I should have known better. That, in the end, us average citizens would not have the final say.
Many years ago, another reporter and I wrote an article about political patronage for The Indianapolis Star. It was the exploration of how favors were dispensed to the faithful political party workers after Evan Bayh was elected governor of Indiana.
The surprise was that everyone in the Bayh administration was surprised that we had written about something that was commonplace but seldom spoken about publicly. Political patronage doesn’t belong to one party. Both practice it. It’s the old “to the victor goes the spoils” adage in action.
And so it goes with the Electoral College it seems. If you are a party bigwig, you get the prize. A juicy appointment. A chance to hobnob with other bigwigs on Dec. 14. And, despite this being the age of Covid, a chance to cast your ballot in person and enjoy a few celebratory laughs at the other party’s expense. As Hillary did.
Revenge for her was sweet, it seems. Even though it meant participating in a process she apparently disdains.
You can stop reading here or you can proceed with a little history lesson, courtesy of Wikipedia:
Two sets of electors are chosen by the respective parties. If the Republican candidate for president wins, the Republican electors get to cast their votes. Same goes for the Democrats. Each state appoints electors according to its legislature, equal in number to its congressional delegation (senators and representatives). Federal office holders cannot be electors.
All jurisdictions use a winner-take-all method to choose their electors, except for Maine and Nebraska, which choose one elector per congressional district and two electors for the ticket with the highest statewide vote. The electors meet and vote in December and the inauguration of the president and vice president takes place in January.
The Huffington Post, stating the obvious, suggests that to become an elector you need a fair amount of political clout: “Dream big, run for office, or, at the very least, become really involved with party politics to be one of the 538 people who officially cast votes for the president.”
If you want to have a little fun, check out the list of 2020 members of the Electoral College – and try not to roll your eyes as you read through it. Kudos to Texas for including a 19-year-old student and a celloist.
Other than those few exceptions, some things never change. As my cleaning lady says: “It’s all about connections.”