Posted: Dec. 3, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The 10-year-old son of Timothy G. Willard, a former Sussex County Democratic chairman, came home from school one day during the lead-up to the election, quite taken with what he was learning about the Electoral College, that curious constitutional institution that stands between the people and the vote for president.

Willard had some news for his son Sam. If John F. Kerry carried Delaware, then Willard was going to be one of the state's three electors. "He was thrilled," Willard said. "I felt like a football star."

Kerry, of course, did win here, the Democratic candidate polling 53 percent of the vote while losing nationwide to President George W. Bush and the Republicans.

The vote put Willard in the Electoral College, along with James "JJ" Johnson and Nancy W. Cook, as the Democratic Party spread the honor around the three counties, the way things so often are done in Delaware.

Willard, a lawyer who practices in Georgetown, is from Sussex County. Johnson, a newly elected state representative, is from New Castle County. Cook, a state senator for 30 years, is from Kent County.

In keeping with the U.S. Constitution and state law, the three will gather in Dover on Dec. 13, the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, the same day that electors meet in other states to participate in what in most years is a ceremonial rite of voting for president.

It did seem more significant and not as ritualized four years ago, when Bush lost the popular vote but secured a majority of the 538 electoral votes in a chaotic legal battle over a Florida recount, its timing driven by deadlines for the Electoral College.

This time Bush won 51 percent of the popular vote and topped Kerry 286-252 in electoral votes.

Like all states, Delaware is allotted as many electors as it has U.S. senators and representatives, giving it the minimum of three. California, the most populous state, has 55 electors. The District of Columbia has three electoral votes, even though it is unrepresented in the Congress.

The state Democratic Party gives its chairman the prerogative of selecting the electors, and Richard H. Bayard said he made the choice "in consultation" with other party leaders. It also clearly was done with an eye toward the Delaware Democrats' core constituencies.

Johnson is an African-American with ties to the labor movement. Cook is a woman who serves in the state Senate, which has been under continuous Democratic control for 31 years and counting. Willard is a lawyer, the profession George Bush loves to hate.

If Delaware had gone Republican, the electors likewise would have been party stalwarts. Their selection was ratified at the state convention last May.

The elector from New Castle County would have been Lammot Copeland, the son of Lammot du Pont Copeland, the last family member to run the DuPont Co., and the father of state Sen. Charles L. Copeland. Kent County would have been represented by Raymond J. Clatworthy, a two-time candidate for the U.S. Senate, and Sussex County by J.Everett Moore Jr., a former state chairman.

It will be at least 20 years between Republican electors, though. Delaware has not voted for a Republican for president since George Bush's father carried the state in 1988.

Johnson, Cook and Willard will meet in 10 days at 10 a.m. in Legislative Hall in the chamber for the House of Representatives to cast separate ballots for president and vice president. The votes will be sent to the U.S. Senate for a formal count on Jan. 6 during a joint congressional session.

The U.S. Constitution does not bind electors to vote the way their state did, but Delaware is one of 26 states with a law that does. It went on the books in 1992. There is no penalty for straying, however.

The parties nationwide work to prevent what are known as "faithless electors" by selecting loyalists, but it does happen -- as it did as recently as 2000, when an elector in the District of Columbia turned in a blank ballot as a protest for the district's exclusion from congressional representation.

The session in Dover is expected to be stylized and short. No doubt it would be more celebratory if Kerry had won the presidency. "At least we're doing what the votes were in the state of Delaware, the majority of the votes," Cook said.

That should be that -- except for Willard, who has thoughts of prolonging the experience.

As an elector, he says he was told he is entitled to two nontransferable invitations to the presidential inauguration, and he may take Sam, even if other Democrats are few and far between in the congratulatory Republican throng.

"Because my son's so interested, I may do that. Sam would get a kick out of it," Willard said.

"I'd really like to see Joe Biden up there. Then we'll all go."