By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG – The Electoral College is 18th century American democracy that somehow manages to look remarkably like 21st century American reality television.
Consider it the nation’s most important tribal council.
The 90-minute ceremony that took place Monday afternoon here and in 49 other states across the nation included enough pomp and circumstance to fill a high school graduation – and enough parliamentary language to count as a crash course in Robert’s Rules of Order – and culminated with President Barack Obama officially securing Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes.
The actual voting lasted less than 10 minutes – and it felt unnecessarily drawn out even at that length – as each elector cast a handwritten paper ballot one-by-one in an official-looking brown wooden box that sat in the center of the state House chamber.
If not for the setting, and for the fact that the voters were wearing suits and ties instead of swimsuits and bandanas, the process resembles the final vote on a season of Survivor.
The end result would make for bad television. There was no drama in the outcome of this tribal council, as the 20 hand-picked Democratic big shots who made up the 57th Electoral College in Pennsylvania history dutifully cast their ballots unanimously for Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, respectively.
But the Founding Fathers can’t be blamed for not making the process a little more interesting for a modern audience. After all, they had a few other things on their mind, like keeping a fledgling political experiment from falling apart.
The very concept of how to fairly elect a chief executive was hammered out right here in Pennsylvania – about 100 miles to the east of Harrisburg at a building in Philadelphia known at the time as the Pennsylvania State House and now known as Independence Hall.
The history and symbolism of casting Monday’s vote in the state that gave birth to this awkward-yet-somehow-successful system of selecting presidents was not lost on the electors.
“It’s incredible, particularly when you hear the history of this process and how our commonwealth relates to the overall electoral process,” said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny. “The connection and being able to be an elector is simply awesome.”
Cliff Levine, a lawyer for the Senate Democrats, was elected president of the Electoral College and waxed poetic about the Pennsylvanian roots of the process.
Gov. Tom Corbett did the same, reminding those in attendance that the election of the president is not a national election but a series of state elections.
But the most important thing, said Corbett, a Republican, was the peaceful transition of power that is the hallmark of American democracy.
“This is a peaceful decision, as compared to what we see in other counties, and we should always have it that way,” Corbett said. “We are not here because one party failed; we are here because the system succeeded.”
In America’s most important tribal council, Pennsylvanians cast more than 2.9 million votes for Obama on Election Day. But the only 20 votes that actually matter were made Monday afternoon.
Those votes will be tallied again, officially, on Jan. 6 in front of a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C., along with the votes of the 49 other states.
Obama is expected to collect 332 of the 538 Electoral College votes, more than enough to legally bring an end to the election and give him a second term in office – though with the size of the federal deficit, he might wish he got a $1 million prize too.
Contact Eric Boehm at [email protected] and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter.