Maureen Hayden: Electors, protesters and sound of freedom
Wednesday, December 21, 2016 9:42 AM
INDIANAPOLIS – Timothy Molinari drove to the Statehouse early Monday with a long-shot hope that he could convince some Indiana electors to go rogue. It was not to be. Carrying a homemade sign that read, “Electors: Do the Right Thing,” the Terre Haute college student stood with a small but noisy group of protesters as all 11 of the state's electors cast votes for Republican Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence.
Hoosier protesters in the Statehouse lobby while Supreme Court Justice Mark Massa swears in the state's 11 Electoral College electors on Monday in the House Chambers. (HPI Photos by Brian A. Howey)
Molinari deemed the process “corrupt” but left with a smile on his face. “I’m a person who likes to be at history,” he said.
Monday’s vote was indeed historic as 538 members of the Electoral College across the nation cast ballots in a constitutionally mandated process that rarely captures much notice. Trump became just the fifth president in history to win the Electoral College vote despite losing the popular vote.
Inside the Indiana House chamber, where the state's electors meet on a constitutionally prescribed date, the all-Republican slate chosen by their party heard an opening prayer praising their work as part of the “peaceful transfer of power." Electors then hand-signed separate ballots for Trump and Pence, sealing results of the Nov. 8 election, when the Republicans won 57 percent of Indiana's vote.
Like all but two states, Indiana awards all of its electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote.
Secretary of State Connie Lawson, who presided over the meeting, said it was unlike past occasions, which were conducted without much fanfare. Indiana has never seen a “faithless” elector, one who breaks partisan ranks and doesn’t vote for the party's presidential nominee. This despite the fact that Indiana electors, unlike some states, are not legally required to pledge or actually vote along party lines.
Lawson seemed unfazed by chants of “Trump is a liar” and “Vote your conscience” that echoed through the cavernous Statehouse on Monday. Nor did she seem bothered that protesters amplified their noise by gathering on two floors, some carrying signs accusing the Russians of rigging the election, a reference to findings by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia hacked Democratic emails and leaked them to help Trump beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “As our governor says, ‘This is what freedom sounds like,’” Lawson said.
She was referring to a phrase used by Pence, the state's outgoing governor, when he was called out last month by cast members of the Broadway show “Hamilton," who beseeched him and the new Trump administration to work “on behalf of all Americans.”
Inside the House chamber, electors could hear protesters’ chants but focused their attention on Lawson. "Today is a celebration for all Americans and all Hoosiers," she said. “The process worked.”
Indiana’s electors and those across the nation were deluged with thousands of emails, calls and letters in recent weeks, mostly from Democrats, pleading with them to vote for someone other than Trump in a last-ditch effort to topple the outcome of the November election.
But having been chosen for their duty by state Republicans last April, they voted out of loyalty both to Indiana voters and to Pence, party leaders said.
Elector Ethan Manning of Macy, never an enthusiastic Trump supporter, focused his enthusiasm on Pence, whose historic role affirms Indiana’s nickname as the “mother of vice presidents” – now at six, second only to New York State. “It’s exciting. I felt goosebumps on my arms,” he said.
Republican Party Chairman Jeff Caldwell defended the process on Monday, saying, “The founding fathers established the Electoral College in the United States Constitution, believing that it would be both a buffer and provide fair power to all states regardless of size.”
The controversial process was created as a compromise with slave-holding states to assure rural parts of the country a voice in presidential elections.
To win the presidency, a candidate must receive 270 electoral votes, otherwise the decision is left to the House of Representatives. Trump was slated to receive 306 electoral votes on Monday. Even though he had 2.8 million fewer votes than Clinton, Trump won 10 more states, giving him more electors.
President George W. Bush was the last president to win the Electoral College vote but not the popular vote. In 2000, he also carried 30 states despite being outpolled by Democrat Al Gore by more than a half-million votes.
Among those celebrating the Electoral College at Monday's meeting was Jerrald Hawkins, a Cicero man who caught attention when he mowed the letters "TRUMP" onto a 100 by 200 foot section of his lakefront lawn. when his Trump yard signs were stolen. Hawkins called it an honor to witness the vote: “I never thought mowing your yard would get you to the Statehouse on Election Day,” he said.
Hawkins said the protesters were suffering from a case of sour grapes and misdirected anger. “I feel sorry for these people, but they should have had a better candidate,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that Hillary was a terrible candidate.”
Maureen Hayden covers the Indiana Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org