Electors poised to record votes

Twelve presidential electors from Massachusetts casting ballots in the national Electoral College tomorrow will gather at the Statehouse in tuxedos and black floor-length gowns to nominate and elect Sen. Barack Obama as president and Sen. Joseph Biden as vice president, in accordance with a 62 percent statewide vote for the Democratic ticket on Nov. 4.

The three electors from Central Massachusetts, John Brissette and Mary Ann Dube of Worcester and Faye Morrison of Ayer, each said they feel they will have a hand in making history as they dress up and play out their roles in the pomp and formal ceremony of the Electoral College voting.

The electors will be sworn in by Gov. Deval L. Patrick here, and by other governors at statehouses across the country tomorrow afternoon to make the 2008 election result final.

But if the Massachusetts Legislature and Mr. Patrick get their way, this will be the last time the electors gather in Boston to cast ballots for president based on the outcome of presidential voting in Massachusetts.

Under a proposed change in presidential elections called for in the National Popular Vote legislation supported by a majority of the state Legislature in votes earlier this year, electors would instead cast their ballots based on who won the national popular vote.

The proposal moving in many state Legislatures around the country would have states join in a binding agreement with other states to cast all their presidential elector ballots to the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states.

The agreement would go into effect once enough states that represent 270 electoral votes, one half of the 540 national electoral votes, enact it. Backers hope that will be in place for the next presidential election in 2012. So far Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey and Maryland have adopted the compact.

The legislation passed the Massachusetts House earlier this year on an initial 119-37 vote and was then endorsed in the Senate on a 27-9 vote. The legislation failed to become law, however, when a final enactment vote in the House came on the last day of the formal session July 31, sending it to the Senate for its final enactment vote in the waning hours of the session.

In the crush of legislation the bill never came up for a vote in the Senate and is expected to be refiled in January.

Four times in U.S. history, most recently in 2000, the presidential candidate that got the most votes was not elected and Common Cause, one of several groups backing the national popular vote deal, argues the law is needed “to make sure the second-place candidate never wins the presidency ever again.”

“It isn’t just the terribly undemocratic results in 2000 when the second-place finisher won the highest office of the land,” said Common Cause Massachusetts Executive Director Pamela Wilmot. “It also is how it affects virtually every election and distorts our political process on behalf of a small number of states that are almost equally divided between Republicans and Democrats,” commonly called election battleground states, she said.

Even with Democrats promising a 50-state campaign this year, she said, “98 percent of the ads and candidate visits were in just 15 states,” she said. While Mr. Obama’s nine-point win over Sen. John McCain eliminated any difference between the Electoral College and popular vote results, Ms. Wilmot said, in close elections it is a frequent problem. “We are hoping for quick passage next session,” she said of the strong support by Senate and House leaders and the governor here.

A constitutional amendment to change the Electoral College would require approval of three-fourths of the states and two-thirds of the Congress. The approach taken with the state-by-state agreement legislation would not require a change in the U.S. Constitution, just an agreement by enough states to cast electoral ballots based on the national vote totals.

Ms. Wilmot said 70 percent of the people have backed the idea of electing presidents by national popular vote for decades, after the 2000 outcome that saw Albert Gore lose to George W. Bush, after winning 500,000 more votes than Mr. Bush.

Among those who anguished over Mr. Gore’s loss was Mr. Brissette, who had worked on the Gore campaign and with Mrs. Gore when he was vice president. But he said last week, he does not want to see the Electoral College voting system changed.

“I worked on Al Gore’s campaign. That is one day I will never forget, when he won the popular vote and lost the election. It was a very hard pill to swallow,” Mr. Brissette said.

But the 44-year-old insurance executive said the current system is still preferable because the proposed change would alter the way campaigns are run. “It would just become a total population election. The current system forces candidates to go into these places they would never get to see like New Hampshire or Iowa. This would have them focus on places like California, New York and Chicago,” he said.

Ms. Dube and Ms. Morrison also said they oppose the national vote proposal for similar reasons.

All three, however, talked about the significance of this election, the hope and excitement surrounding the president-elect and their pride in being able to cast one of the nation’s electoral votes.

“The fact of his being the first African-American president and the whole thing about hope and change, has really resonated around this country,” Mr. Brissette said. He pointed to the similarities to Mr. Patrick’s inauguration as the first black elected governor in Massachusetts two years ago, and the similar campaign themes in the governor’s campaign and Mr. Obama’s. “We’ve seen that here and now it is going to be on the national level,” Mr. Brissette said.

“I’m a retired schoolteacher and taught social studies and language arts in Millbury, so to be part of this is amazing, and this year in particular to elect the first African-American president is a wonderful thing,” said Ms. Dube, who is also a member of the city Elections Commission.

Each elector has been allowed to invite 20 friends and family members to the Statehouse for the vote, while also being assured of two tickets to the Obama-Biden inaugural ceremonies Jan. 20 in Washington D.C.

Ms. Morrison, 49, with two daughters including one currently serving in the Army Reserves in Iraq, is a member of the Democratic State Committee and a longtime supporter of Mr. Obama, having contributed to his first unsuccessful congressional campaign and followed his career closely.

“I was with him from the beginning. I flew to Springfield, (Ill.) when he announced,” and volunteered on the campaign since then, she said. Still, she said, she is surprised that he rose so far so fast. “Obviously (the president-elect) being the first African-American is historic. And it’s certainly not something I thought would happen in my lifetime,” Ms. Morrison said.

“I think it’s the right time for that and he will bring a fresh new energy and be a good page turner for the country,” she said adding part of her commitment to Mr. Obama’s candidacy came from his assurance that he would end the war in Iraq.

Date: 12/15/2008 12:00:00 AM