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Washington Officially Casts Its 11 Electoral Votes For Kerry

OLYMPIA - It was a bittersweet moment for
Washington's Electoral College members Monday, casting the state's
entire bloc of 11 electoral votes for their losing Democratic
candidate, John Kerry.


Several delegates said the system is antiquated and potentially
harmful, but none cast a protest vote. The state had one of those
rare "faithless electors" in 1976, when Mike Padden, now a
Spokane County Superior Court judge, voted for Ronald Reagan rather
than state winner Gerald Ford.


There was plenty of pomp, but no suspense, Monday as all 11
electors raised their hands to affirm that Kerry was their choice
for president and, a few minutes later, that Sen. John Edwards was
their pick for vice president.


It was all over in 27 minutes flat.


"This is the fastest thing I've ever been to in Olympia - done
in a little over 20 minutes," quipped Todd Donovan, a political
science professor who served as an alternate. "It's kind of
anti-climatic."


The ceremony, played out at capitols across the country,
reflected the nation's dual track system of determining the
winners. Washington and nearly all states award their entire bloc
of electoral votes, equal to the number in their congressional
delegations, to the statewide winner of the popular vote.


The Kerry-Edwards ticket won about 53 percent of the state vote,
but got 100 percent of the electoral votes. Washington hasn't voted
Republican for president since fellow westerner Reagan in 1984.


Gov. Gary Locke, a Democrat, and Secretary of State Sam Reed, a
Republican, presided over the ceremony in the ornate State
Reception Room. Locke talked about the "all-American controversy"
that surrounds the Electoral College, but he and Reed both said
it's a tradition that still has value.


The 11 electors, party activists who were elected by fellow
Democrats, chose Patsy Whitefoot, a Yakama Indian leader and
educator from White Swan, as chairwoman.


Although the outcome was preordained, Whitefoot called for
nominations, since legally the electors aren't bound by the popular
vote. Only Kerry and Edwards were nominated; the tallies were
unanimous.


Besides peer pressure, there's another powerful incentive
against straying. After Padden's vote in 1976, state lawmakers
authorized a $10,000 fine henceforth.


There were no nominating speeches and no public celebration
after the votes were announced. Electors stuck around to fill out
their pay and travel vouchers - $10, plus mileage - and to sign the
minutes.


About 80 government students from Cascade High School in Everett
watched during the voting, enjoying the pomp, if less than
persuaded that the process makes sense.


"I think it's kind of old-fashioned and we should use the
popular vote," said Ashley Jimenez, 18.


Bryce Tynan, 17, a Kerry backer, enjoyed watching his candidate
sweep up all of the state's electoral votes, but added, "Popular
vote makes more sense."


Even some of the delegates agreed.


"This was fun, even if I'm ambivalent about the system," said
Richard Kelley of Seattle. "This makes me think about how
antiquated the institution is. It's almost pre-democratic. We could
actually overturn the will of the people. I think we could do
better."


Donovan said the system is "damaging for democracy" and often
prompts calls for a constitutional amendment, particularly after
the close elections like 1948, 1968 and 2000. A swing of a
relatively few votes in a handful of small states could have made
Kerry the winner this year without carrying the popular vote, he
said.


"Why should somebody's vote, like in Wyoming, be worth twice as
much as someone's in California?" he said in an interview. "If
you were setting up a democracy right now, you wouldn't do this.
You wouldn't do this in Afghanistan."


Former legislative leader Val Ogden, D-Vancouver, said she'd be
surprised if the system is abolished. For now, she said, it's fun
to be a little footnote in the history book, and gratifying to cast
a vote for her candidate, who narrowly lost both the popular and
electoral votes.


"Hey, this is something to tell our grandchildren," Whitefoot
said.

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