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December 08. 2012 9:09PM

Electoral College a time-honored tradition that remains viable

America's choice for President becomes official a week from Monday, when electors meet in 50 states and the District of Columbia to formalize the reelection of Barack Obama in rituals as old as the nation.

The Electoral College, that perennial subject of high school debating teams, will record votes for the 57th time since the Constitution was adopted 223 years ago.

New Hampshire has four of the 538 votes, which will be cast by electors chosen by the state Democratic party.

"It's a great honor," said C. Arthur Soucy of Manchester, a long-time public official and Democratic party stalwart. "They approached me and I said I'd love to do it, it's an honor being one of just 538."

Electoral College voters are carefully chosen by each party. They are invariably party loyalists, usually with strong connections to the presidential candidate's campaign. The distinction is often recognition of past service.

"It is the highest honor that can be given to any person, to be selected," said state Democratic chairman Ray Buckley. "Even if your candidate doesn't win, it's still an honor to have your name listed in the permanent record."

In addition to Soucy, the Democrats who will cast ballots include former Congressional candidates Joanne Dowdell and Mary Rauh, and longtime activist, lobbyist and former legislator James Demers.

Dowdell was an early supporter of Obama and is an appointed member of the Democratic National Committee.

"I was elated. It is truly a privilege and an honor," Dowdell said. "I don't think it's a relic; it's a system put forth to ensure that all votes count."

The first African-American elector from New Hampshire, Dowdell said it wasn't that long ago that it seemed inconceivable that a black American would be casting an electoral vote to re-elect a black President.

"Ten years ago I don't think I could have imagined it," Dowdell said.

Mary Rauh, another former Congressional candidate, is also excited by the prospect of casting an Electoral College vote. She and her husband, political activist Tom Rauh, once traveled to the State House to watch as the electoral votes were cast.

"It really is exciting, and it is exciting because it such a rare experience," she said. "Since my President that I worked so hard for won, it is especially pleasant."

Demers also was one of the earliest Obama-backers in the state.

"I think it's an honor to be selected to represent your state to do this," Demers told the New Hampshire Sunday News. "While the election is done and the results are clear, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity."

Rauh and Demers co-chaired the Obama campaign in New Hampshire in 2008. Dowdell is a member of the Democratic National Committee.

Buckley said the honor was especially fitting for Soucy, whose involvement in Democratic politics stretches back a half century.

"C. Arthur is very involved in the community, very involved in the Catholic Church and its charitable organizations," Buckley said. "He was an alderman in his 20s, one of the founders of New Hampshire Young Democrats, a local businessman, just somebody who has been involved in the party and the community and his church for his entire life and has never had the opportunity to have a role like this."

The New Hampshire electors gather at the State House on Monday, Dec. 17, a date specified by federal law.

"The electors meet, they organize, they select the person who presides for them and they select a ballot teller," said Secretary of State William Gardner. "They are given ballots and they vote for President and they vote for vice president."

It is Gardner's office, however, that has the most work to perform when the Electoral College votes.

Electoral votes for each office are recorded on six sets of paired forms listing votes for President on one, and for Vice President on the other.

One pair will be sent to Vice President Joe Biden, as President of the Senate. Two pair are sent to the National Archives. Two pair are sent to Gardner's office, one for the state records, the other in case the copy sent to Biden doesn't arrive.

The final set will be delivered to Joseph LaPlante, chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Concord, just in case every other copy gets lost. A few times throughout history, electors have gone rogue and have voted for someone other than the popular vote winner from their state.

The most recent faithless elector was when a Minnesota voter cast a ballot for Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards for President in 2004 instead of for the party nominee, John Kerry.

Calls for eliminating the Electoral College are a recurring theme during and after election seasons.

This year's electors from New Hampshire have diverse points of view.

Demers says the attention paid to New Hampshire this year show that the Electoral College means more attention falls on smaller states, especially those states whose votes are in play during a close campaign.

In the last three elections, New Hampshire has been a battleground state and people learned from the George Bush - Al Gore election that putting an emphasis on even a tiny little state could make the difference."

"New Hampshire has changed as it relates to presidential politics, we only saw presidential candidates in January and February, they never came back in November," Demers said.

This year, both Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, and their running mates, made frequent trips to the Granite State.

Dowdell said the Electoral College reinforced the importance of states such as New Hampshire, by preventing candidates from spending all their resources on the most heavily populated areas of the country, seeking to pile up insurmountable leads.

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Bill Smith may be reached at wsmith@unionleader.com.


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