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Electoral College debate reignites

Pete Nickeas and Kevin Lee // Published December 17, 2008 in Small Newspaper Group (Illinois)
Electoral College members meeting in 50 state capitals Monday, including Springfield, elected Barack Obama president and reignited the perennial debate on how presidents are selected.

Illinois' 21 electors unanimously endorsed Obama, who won the state’s popular vote last month.

The U.S. Constitution leaves presidential elections to a group known as the Electoral College. The number of electors from each state is equal to its number of representatives in Congress.

FairVote is one of several public policy groups working to negate the influence of the Electoral College, and implement a national popular vote system.

Under its proposed system, state electors would vote for the candidate who earned the most votes in the national election instead of who earned the most votes in their state.

According to Adam Fogel, the group’s Right to Vote director, the system would take effect if states with a combined total of at least 270 electoral votes—the amount a president needs to be elected—passed legislation requiring electors to vote for the candidate won the popular vote.

"The Electoral College does not ensure that the person receives the most votes becomes president," Fogel said. "The person elected president should be the person who receives the most votes nationally."

Four states, including Illinois, have passed legislation that calls for electors to vote according to the national election.

"It's always fun to vote for Barack," Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie said at the meeting, who is from the district Barack Obama represented as a state senator.

Not all electors were able to participate in the historic event, though. Mary Boland, wife of state Rep. Mike Boland, D-East Moline, was slated to represent Illinois' 17th Congressional District but was on a cruise in the Caribbean instead.

"We had planned months and months ago," Boland said. "So Mary had to call and cancel her being able to be an elector."

Mike Boland, a former civics teacher, said they scheduled the vacation before they knew the date the Electoral College would meet. But the date is far from a secret; federal law enacted in 1948 requires electors to meet on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December.

Mary Boland’s replacement was House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, D-Chicago, who cast his vote without the brief speech most others gave.

State Sen. Debbie Halvorson, D-Crete, also wasn't present. According to a representative for Halvorson, elected in November to a U.S. House seat in District 11, inclement weather prevented her from traveling to Springfield in time for the meeting. State Rep. Tom Holbrook, D-Belleville, cast a vote in her place.