Thursday, December 22, 2016

How presidents are elected

My granddaughters are visiting from Alaska, so on Monday I went with them to the state capitol to watch the Electoral College in action. A band of ageing hippies with saucepans greeted up at the capitol steps with the chant: "We reject! The President-elect!" Inside, and up two flights, was the Executive Council chamber with its handsome brown leather chairs and portraits of New Hampshire notables dating back to 1686. (They were all men, a situation that would be corrected in a few hours' time. Misogyny had no chance on December 19, when all four Electors and the governor were women.) The room is a big one, but it was crowded with spectators, including schoolchildren sitting on the floor and the customary grubby assortment of journalists.

It was all very moving. The secretary of state, a bald gentleman of seventy or so, told us how the new states (only ten of which actually voted!) had to devise its own system to choose Electors, since the Constitution hadn't specified. Then the four ladies and the governor made pretty speeches, all but one choosing to talk about herself and the wonders of woman-power. The exception was my favorite politician, Dudley Webster Dudley. She took the opportunity to do a bit of business, urging New Hampshire to join the National Popular Vote compact, which would have us assign (shamefully, IMHO) our four votes to the candidate receiving the most votes nationwide. (I wonder how that would have gone down with the ageing hippies with their saucepans and their chant, had the national vote gone the other way, had the compact been in force, and had our Electors voted for Mr Trump though we had chosen Mrs Clinton?)

Then each of the ladies voted, with a pen, on a piece of paper, with a golden seal, and the package stuck together with red sealing wax! It was wonderful. I wonder if our four votes have reached Washington yet, or have they been delayed by the Christmas mail?

After an intermission, Dudley's portrait was unveiled by her granddaughter. It isn't a terribly good likeness of the lovely Executive Councilor of 1976, though she did fare a bit better than Winston Churchill in like circumstances. (He apparently arranged to have his portrait burned.) There was no explanation of how space will be made to hang the painting, since there is already a portrait for each vertical space on the walls. I was told that the oldest painting would come down, to make room for the newest, but this absolutely must not be done, any more than a people should vote to deprive themselves of their vote. The gentleman in question is Joseph Dudley, her great-great-something or other, the president (later governor) of Massachusetts Bay Colony, which at the time included New Hampshire. A better solution, I think, would be to have the two Dudleys share the same vertical space, with the woman of course on top.

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