Elector delivers vote for Obama

Clark County woman reports on Olympia visit for constitutional ritual

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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Longtime Clark County Democrat Kathleen Lawrence traveled to Olympia this month to leave her mark on American history.

Lawrence, one of 12 members of the state's Electoral College, signed ballots for President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on Dec. 17. Those ballots will be filed in the National Archives.

Her vote helped confirm what was decided on election night: Obama will embark on his second presidential term next month.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Lawrence said by phone, directly after fulfilling her duties as an elector. "I think everyone that was there just really felt the excitement of it."

She and 11 others sat at tables in the elegant, marble-walled State Reception Room, with its chandeliers made of Czech glass and red French velvet curtains. The room, on the third floor of the Legislative Building, is often used as a meeting place for the governor and her very important guests.

The Electoral College process is mandated by the U.S. Constitution. When voters cast their ballots this fall for Obama or his challenger, Republican Mitt Romney, they technically were casting a vote for a group of electors in their state.

The state of Washington casts 12 electoral votes. Because Obama won the popular vote in Washington, the state's 12 Democratic electors, who were chosen earlier at a party convention, got to vote for Obama and Biden. Had Romney won the state's popular vote, 12 Republican electors would have voted for him and his running mate, Paul Ryan.

It takes 270 electoral votes from across the country for a presidential candidate to win.

When the electors met this month in Olympia, Lawrence was required to print the candidates' names on her ballots and then sign her name. Prior to the ceremony, she had pledged to vote for Obama and Biden.

"They send you a pledge form that you do sign ahead of time that you will stick with whoever the nominee ends up being," she said.

Lawrence printed and signed six ballots for Obama and Biden. The ballots were dispersed among various state and federal officials, including Biden (in the vice president's role as president of the U.S. Senate), the Washington secretary of state, the national archivist, and the chief judge of the federal district court.

In addition to signing her ballots, Lawrence said, "we had a photo session with (outgoing Secretary of State) Sam Reed. The new secretary of state, Kim Wyman, was there, and of course, Gov. (Chris) Gregoire gave some remarks as well."

Ralph Schmidt, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully in the 18th Legislative District this year against state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, made the trek to Olympia as Lawrence's alternate.

Lawrence was selected to be an elector during the Democratic caucus for the state's 3rd Congressional District. She has spent decades championing Democratic causes; she's been active in an organization for Democratic women, she belongs to the political action committee for the state teachers union, and she was a delegate to the 1980 Democratic National Convention. She's a former chairwoman of the Clark County Democratic Party and she's the 49th Legislative District party chairwoman.

During the ceremony in Olympia, Lawrence was presented with a certificate, which she expects to frame and hang in her home. In fact, she already had a special place picked out; it will hang in the room that houses her piano and her books.

"I'm kind of into political types of things," Lawrence said, adding the certificate "looks very official."

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523; http://facebook.com/reportermathieu; http://twitter.com/col_politics; stevie.mathieu@columbian.com.