NY's Electoral College to cast crucial vote

"There is real danger ahead for New York's

"There is real danger ahead for New York's economy if America goes over the 'fiscal cliff,' " said New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. (March 14, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan)

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It will be six weeks since Election Day, but the re-election of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will not be formalized until next week in Albany and at other state capitals around the country.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, of Great Neck Plaza, and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone will be among the 29 electors from across the state who will sit beneath the gold leaf dome of the State Senate chamber Dec. 17 to formally cast votes as members of the Electoral College.

"The campaign cycle is often a knockdown, drag-out battle," said DiNapoli, who also served as an elector four years ago. "But there is a formality of being in the Senate chamber to do the public's business . . . In grade school you weren't quite sure what the Electoral College was, but casting a vote . . . is very much a part of history."

The Electoral College is an arcane -- some say archaic -- political mechanism created as a compromise in the U.S. Constitution between electing presidents by direct popular vote or by a vote of Congress.

There are 538 electors -- one for each House member and U.S. senator and three for the District of Columbia. Forty-eight of 50 states have a winner-take-all system awarding all electors to the presidential candidate who won their state. Maine and Nebraska award electors on a proportional basis.

Critics say the Electoral College system allows a dozen swing states to get the bulk of the attention and resources in presidential contests. States such as New York that are solidly Democratic, or Texas that is heavily Republican, get relatively little attention.

Critics also say the system results in presidential contenders playing to parochial issues in certain key states instead of focusing on issues of national concern. It can even result in the election of a president who receives a minority of the popular vote, as occurred in the race in 2000 between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore.

Backers say the Electoral College provides a balance so that smaller states can maintain an important role in the presidential process.

Bellone called the Electoral College a "unique part" of the nation's election process. He said that while large states such as New York may not have been major players in the recent campaign, "by virtue of our size New York is going to get heard. But smaller states and their issues would not get the focus and attention they deserve" without presidential primaries and the Electoral College.

Some who have served as electors describe it as an unforgettable experience -- not to mention the fact that their names are listed in the National Archives and they get VIP seats at the inauguration.

Ivan Young, former Islip Democratic chairman, said his role as an elector was especially satisfying because he was the lone local party leader to back Obama during the Democratic primary in 2008, when state Democrats were solidly behind then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"Very honestly, I never expected to see a black male become president of the United States in my lifetime," said Young, who is African-American. "And to have the privilege of having a vote counted for the president is an experience I'll always remember and cherish."

Young even carried his then-4-month-old daughter, Melita, in his arms when the state electors posed for their formal portrait.

Joseph Mondello, Nassau Republican chairman, was an elector for the last winning GOP presidential candidate who carried New York -- Ronald Reagan in 1984. "It was pretty heady stuff sitting in the Senate chamber," he recalled. "It felt like I had a super vote."

Former Suffolk County Executive Patrick Halpin, state director of Gore's presidential campaign in 2000, had a more melancholy role as an elector when Gore won New York but lost the election when the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the recount in Florida.

"We had the greatest plurality of any state in the union," recalled Halpin, who has his ballot framed in his office. "I was excited to be part of it, but it was also very sad."