By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
DELAND -- Vonzelle Johnson and Dr. T. Wayne Bailey plan to vote for Barack Obama. Actually, they have no choice. Florida law requires they vote for Mr. Obama ... again.
The DeLand commissioner and Stetson University professor are two of 29 members of Florida's Electoral College who'll elect the president on Dec. 17.
Wait, didn't that happen on Tuesday, Nov. 6? Yes and no.
"On the ballot, it says you vote for the presidential candidate," Dr. Bailey said. "You don't. You vote for the slate of electors. It used to say that."
So, President Barack Obama hasn't been re-elected yet. But, it's a pretty safe bet he'll win. Dr. Bailey, who's a presidential elector for the fourth time, said it's possible electors could opt to vote differently than their states. Some would be in violation of their states' laws by voting for someone other than the winner of the electoral votes, but ...
"There's no federal law (prohibiting vote switching)," Dr. Bailey said. "But my prediction is no one will deviate from their commitment."
Mr. Johnson said he was excited to be picked for the 538-member Electoral College; it's a high honor handed out to devoted Republican and Democratic party members.
"For me, it was a very humbling feeling," he said.
Mr. Johnson and Dr. Bailey will travel to Tallahassee to cast their second 2012 presidential votes. That'll be at the Florida Senate chambers. While he likes the honor of being a first-time elector, Mr. Johnson thinks the nation should revisit the arcane rules of electing presidents.
"I understand the (Electoral College) system and why it was put in place," he said. "I think it could use some tweaking."
The Electoral College was a strange bit of political compromise at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. While a President of the United States heading up an executive branch of government was a novel proposition, the job had a predecessor -- the President of the United States in Congress Assembled, shortened to President of the Congress.
That much-weaker job created under the Articles of Confederation went to a member of Congress, which also elected him. John Hanson was the first President of the Congress under the Articles, by the way. Congress elected him on Nov. 5, 1781.
Some at the Constitutional Convention wanted to keep the proposed executive presidency of the United States firmly in Congress' hands. Others favored a president elected by the state legislatures. Still others wanted direct popular elections of presidents. The Electoral College was a middle ground. The Constitution set forth very few rules about how states would select their electors.
"Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the state may be entitled in the Congress: but no senator or representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector."
Statute 103.021 spells out Florida's rules. It directs the governor to appoint electors for each political party based on the recommendations of the parties' executive committees. The electors must take "an oath that he or she will vote for the candidates of the party that he or she is nominated to represent."
The Electoral College created a mathematical oddity. It's possible for someone to win the national popular vote, but not the presidency. That's happened four times in presidential history under different circumstances. Most recently in the 2000 election.
According to the Federal Elections Commission, Al Gore had 50,999,897 votes that year. George W. Bush had 50,456,002, a difference of about 544,000 votes. However, Mr. Bush ended up with 271 electoral votes, and Mr. Gore 266. That strange bit of math is possible because of uneven population distributions and the fact smaller states are guaranteed at least three electoral votes. A small state can have fewer residents than a congressional district.
"When there's a crisis in the (Electoral College) like in 2000, you can't repair the roof because it's raining," said Dr. Bailey, who founded Stetson's political science program, said. "On a clear day, there's no incentive to do so."
In addition to being a city commissioner, Mr. Johnson, who's only 28, is a precinct-committee chair for the Volusia County Democratic Party. At press time, he's in the running to become the county party's chair.
Jeff Shepherd, the Volusia Democratic Party secretary, said he wasn't surprised that Mr. Johnson was picked for the honor. Mr. Shepherd said he has impressed a lot of local and state Democrats.
"I think he shows a passion for what he's doing," he said. "He is a young man in a world of politics. A lot of young people aren't entering (politics). I think a lot of people see in him a future."