Posted: Dec. 13, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Without a president to send to the White House, the Delaware Democrats downgraded their participation in the Electoral College on Monday in Dover from a celebration to an academic exercise, which is what the name makes it sound like, anyway.

An Electoral College session can be a joyous time if the state votes for the winner, serving as another happy milestone on the victory lap from Election Day last month to Inauguration Day next month. Well-wishers pour in to bask in the glory.

Not this time. Delaware went with John F. Kerry and the Democrats, but the country kept George W. Bush and the Republicans for a second term.

Bragging rights are not nearly as satisfying as inaugural rites. The state's Democratic establishment stayed away entirely from the Electoral College.

The electors -- state Sen. Nancy W. Cook, newly-elected state Rep. James "JJ" Johnson and former Sussex County Democratic Chairman Timothy G. Willard -- were left to cast their votes in a losing cause, carrying forward a constitutional role that seems to be more relic than relevant.

Still, there can be no president without it. "We're making the vote official," said Secretary of State Harriet Smith Windsor, whose office conducted the proceeding in Legislative Hall before two dozen or so students invited to attend.

As the U.S. Constitution requires, the session was held on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, the same day the other states and the District of Columbia also met to cast a total of 538 electoral votes, 286 for Bush and 252 for Kerry.

Like all states, Delaware is allotted electors based on the size of its congressional delegation, in this case two senators and one representative. The electors were chosen by Democratic Party officials -- a perquisite shared among the three counties with Cook from Kent County, Johnson from New Castle County and Willard from Sussex County.

In minutes the electors cast separate ballots for Kerry for president and John R. Edwards, his running mate, for vice president. Then they signed copies to be sent variously to Vice President Richard B. Cheney in his capacity as the president of the U.S. Senate, to Windsor, to national and state archives, and to Sue L. Robinson, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Delaware.

Cheney will preside Jan. 6, when the electoral votes officially are counted during a joint congressional session.

The ceremony in Dover was fully scripted, down to the dialogue written in advance for the electors to choose Cook as their chair and Willard as secretary.

It seemed very much as business as usual to anyone familiar with the workings of Legislative Hall, where Cook is an undisputed master. If there is going to be a vote, the odds are that she will be at the center of it.

Why should even a ceremonial vote be any different?