Bruce Bredeman received so many messages urging him to switch his vote during the last presidential election that his e-mail service practically shut down.
“I was getting about 1,400 e-mails a day for several weeks asking me to switch my vote from George W. Bush to Al Gore until I had to call my e-mail service provider to filter them out,” Bredeman said.
Bredeman, a Fulton resident, was a different type of voter that year. On one day in December 2000, he and 537 other electors congregated in their respective states to do what few Americans ever will: vote directly for the president of the United States.
Bredeman was a member of the Electoral College, a system the framers of the Constitution established to elect the president by the votes of the “most enlightened and respectable citizens.”
Who casts the final votes?
When Americans check their preferences on a ballot, they technically are voting not for a candidate but for a Republican, Democrat or other party slate of electors. The victorious group of electors will then cast the official votes for president in December.
The electors from Columbia and other parts of the Ninth Congressional District include Republican Rick Hardy, Democrat Rikki Jones Wright, Constitution Party representative Kathie Schlemper and Libertarian Andy Shirkey.
There are 44 electors in Missouri this year — 11 for each of the four parties on the ballot. Only one set of those electors will cast Missouri’s official votes for president Dec. 13.
If, for example, Bush wins the popular vote in Missouri, Hardy and the 10 other Republican electors will cast all the state’s official votes.
Even if Bush wins 50 percent of the popular vote in Missouri, as he did in 2000, he will win 100 percent of the state’s 11 electoral votes. This winner-take-all system is part of the reason why some presidents win the electoral vote but lose the popular vote, as Bush did in 2000.
“Since 2000, we certainly appreciate the importance of the Electoral College more than ever before,” said Wright, an attorney for the state.
This year, Wright’s and other electors’ votes might be just as important. The most recent Los Angeles Times electoral votes nationwide shows Bush with 167, Kerry with 153 and the remaining 218 — including Missouri’s 11 — up for grabs. A majority, or 270 votes, is needed to win.
Becoming an elector
Becoming an elector is a relatively simple process set mostly by the political parties. For the Constitution and Libertarian parties, it is a phone call. For the Republican and Democratic parties, it involves a little more.
After having expressed interest to her party, Wright attended the Democratic state convention in April in Columbia, where she was officially nominated and elected.
“The elector position is not heavily sought after — not as much as a delegate to the national Democratic convention because the elector doesn’t go there,” she said.
Part of Wright’s political path to becoming a Democratic elector actually involved the Republican elector Hardy. He was her political science professor at MU, where she attended undergraduate and law school.
Hardy became an elector through a more involved nomination process. It included a local Republican caucus, a congressional district convention and a state convention.
His office, packed with stacks of government books and pictures with the likes of former President George Bush, shows evidence of his 27-year involvement in Missouri politics.
“In order to become an elector, I think you have to have paid your dues and been loyal to the party,” he said.
Qualifications required for becoming an elector are minimal. So are the regulations on whether electors must follow the popular vote, depending on the state.
Missouri’s electors can vote however they choose. Such flexibility is one reason why electors such as Bredeman often face pleas to change their vote in closely contested races.
“What people don’t understand,” Bredeman said, “is that these electors are loyalists, that being a presidential elector is an honor and that people take the responsibility seriously.”
In U.S. history, there have been 156 “faithless electors” who for various reasons did stray from their party’s designated candidates, according to the Center for Voting and Democracy. None of these electors changed the outcome of an election.
The last faithless elector was Barbara Lett-Simmons, a Democrat from Washington, D.C., who in 2000 abstained rather than cast her vote for Al Gore as expected. The abstention was in protest of the lack of congressional representation for Washington, D.C. Though Bush earned just one more electoral vote than the necessary 270, Lett-Simmons’ abstention did not matter.
Another issue that surfaces around potentially close elections is the practice of some states divvying up their electoral votes among candidates.
Colorado residents will vote in November on whether the state should scrap its winner-take-all system in favor of a proportional system that would split electoral votes according to the popular vote. If that system had been in place in Colorado in 2000, Gore would have won. Two other states, Nebraska and Maine, each give two votes to the popular-vote winner and the remaining votes to the winner of each congressional district.
Elector penalties for switching votes?p>
U.S. Constitution: None. Framers wanted electors to be free agents.
Missouri: None. While some states issue fines or other penalties for not following their party’s designated candidate, Missouri does not.
U.S. Constitution: May not hold a federal office.
Missouri: Must be a registered voter and a resident of the district in which they were elected. The two at-large electors can live anywhere in Missouri.
Electors per state?
One for each U.S. representative and U.S. senator. Missouri has 11 electors for each party.