Meet the Electoral College, America’s Most Important Voters

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A few famous names are among the 538 Americans about to cast the votes that matter most when electing U.S. presidents. But many are people like Mary Arnold, a retired social worker and a first-time member of the Electoral College.

Ms. Arnold, a Democrat from Columbus, Wis., will cast one of her state’s 10 electoral votes for President-elect Joe Biden on Monday, when electors nationwide meet in their states.

“I was blown away to be asked,” she said. “It never occurred to me that I might be an elector.”

Ms. Arnold, who is 72 years old and leads her county’s party organization, said she received a phone call in September from the state Democratic chairman asking if she would like to be an elector. She was told she was selected because she had been a good local leader.

She said the occasion will be the first time she gets dressed up since the coronavirus pandemic hit, and she figures she will stop for takeout food to celebrate during her 30-minute drive home from Madison. “I am going to put on makeup for probably the first time in nine months,” she said.

‘It never occurred to me that I might be an elector,’ says Mary Arnold. She threaded a needle and petted her dog while in a Biden organization Zoom meeting Thursday.



Photo:

Taylor Glascock for The Wall Street Journal (2)

The nation’s founders created the Electoral College as a compromise between those who favored a direct popular vote and those who wanted lawmakers to pick presidents.

Mr. Biden won the national popular vote by more than seven million ballots, according to the Associated Press. But the number that counts is his electoral vote total, 306, to President Trump’s 232.

Mr. Trump has refused to accept the election outcome and pushed dozens of legal challenges, with losses at all levels including the U.S. Supreme Court. His unwillingness to concede has put a spotlight on the mechanics of choosing the president.

The Constitution doesn’t specify how electors are to be picked, and each state has its own process. Many are elected at state party conventions. In some cases, they are essentially handpicked by party leaders and then confirmed at a special state meeting.

Electors are legally bound in some states to vote for the person who won their state, a requirement the Supreme Court said earlier this year is permissible. In others, so-called faithless electors can break ranks, though that is rare.

The 59th Electoral College that will assemble Monday will be different because of the pandemic. In some states, limits are being placed on the number of guests electors can bring. Others are moving the meetings to larger spaces to accommodate social distancing.

In Vermont, electors will convene at 10 a.m., while those in Hawaii won’t assemble until nine hours later.

Rachel Paule, an elector from suburban Atlanta, would prefer a system that avoids the winner-take-all rules used by most states.



Photo:

Lynsey Weatherspoon for The Wall Street Journal

In each state, electors will review the election results and sign six certificates. The certificates contain two lists, one that includes the electoral votes for the president and the other the electoral votes for the vice president.

They will then pair those certificates with paperwork from their state’s governor and send the material through registered mail to a variety of places, according to the Congressional Research Service. Single certificates will be sent to Vice President Mike Pence and to the U.S. district court for the area where the electors met. Two certificates will be sent to both the secretary of state, or an equivalent official, and the archivist of the U.S.

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The electoral vote won’t be official until Jan. 6, when Mr. Pence is expected to open correspondence from each state during a joint session of Congress and have the totals read aloud. Once a candidate reaches 270 electoral votes, he or she will be declared the winner.

Some well-known people are electors. Hillary Clinton will be among New York Democrats, as will her husband, former President

Bill Clinton.

Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia House minority leader who narrowly lost a 2018 bid for governor, is also an elector.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is a Republican elector, along with

Ken Blackwell,

a former Ohio secretary of state and treasurer. Both have been staunch Trump supporters.

Wisconsin, where Mr. Biden defeated Mr. Trump by about 20,000 votes, provides a typical example of elector composition.

In addition to Ms. Arnold, the nine other Democratic electors are the state party secretary, a state representative, a state senator, the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, a member of the Democratic National Committee, the president of a tribal council, the lieutenant governor, the governor and the state party chairman.

Alaska elector Judy Eledge, shown saying goodbye to her husband, Randy, as he leaves for work, said she doesn’t think the Electoral College system should be changed.



Photo:

Ash Adams for The Wall Street Journal

Judy Eledge, a retired elementary-school principal, spends most weekday mornings exercising at a water park and then goes to a Pilates class.



Photo:

Ash Adams for The Wall Street Journal

Some Democrats have pushed to abolish the Electoral College. A Gallup poll in September showed 61% of American adults said the president should be picked by the popular vote, a number that jumps to 89% among Democrats. Among Republicans, 77% favor keeping the Electoral College unchanged.

Some of this year’s participants said the system could use updating.

“I’m not sure it should be abolished, but the way it is now it doesn’t uphold the spirit of democracy in America,” said elector Rachel Paule, a suburban Atlanta resident who is president of the Young Democrats organization in Georgia. “It’s an honor to be part of this process, but I don’t think it’s a perfect process,” she said.

Ms. Paule, who is 27 years old, was asked in February by her state party’s chairwoman to be an elector. She said she would prefer to see a system that avoids the winner-take-all rules used by all but two states. “We are the United States of America,” she said. “One person, one vote not applying to the president is sort of silly to me.”

Alaska elector Judy Eledge, a 73-year-old retired elementary-school principal who leads the Anchorage Republican Women’s Club, said she doesn’t think the system should be changed.

“If you don’t have the Electoral College, you just have the big cities elect everything,” she said. “Our founders were very smart in designing it this way.”

Ms. Eledge, who was picked as an elector in early April at her party’s state convention, will take a nearly two-hour flight over frozen tundra to cast her ballot for Mr. Trump.

‘I want to be a model for my fellow students,’ said Tamon Hamlett, who attends the University of Houston.



Photo:

Michael Starghill for The Wall Street Journal

Tamon Hamlett must drive three hours to Austin, Texas, to cast his Electoral College vote.



Photo:

Michael Starghill for The Wall Street Journal

More than 3,000 miles to the southeast, Tamon Hamlett hopes his 2006 Nissan holds up for the three-hour drive from Houston to Austin. The Texas college student plans to network around the state capital before and after his vote for Mr. Trump.

Mr. Hamlett, a 19-year-old political-science student at the University of Houston, said he was elected during a July virtual state GOP convention. He had hoped to be elected to the national convention, but fell short and was instead picked as an elector.

“I’ve heard about it my entire life, but now I’m part of it,” he said. “I want to be a model for my fellow students.”

Mr. Hamlett, who has never been to Austin, plans to bring a college friend along. He said he understands the state party will reimburse him for one hotel night and gas for his car. “I’m not old enough to really rent a car,” he said.

Elector Mary Arnold takes her dog for a walk around her Wisconsin neighborhood.



Photo:

Taylor Glascock for The Wall Street Journal

Write to John McCormick at mccormick.john@wsj.com

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