Shirley McCombs of Petersburg confessed to being nervous Monday, even though she’s been through the drill four other times. McCombs, a presidential elector from Illinois’ 18th Congressional District, joined 20 other Illinoisans Monday – along with their counterparts across the country – to cast the votes that officially elected Barack Obama as the next president.

Shirley McCombs of Petersburg confessed to being nervous Monday, even though she’s been through the drill four other times.


McCombs, a presidential elector from Illinois’ 18th Congressional District, joined 20 other Illinoisans Monday – along with their counterparts across the country – to cast the votes that officially elected Barack Obama as the next president.


“It was fantastic,” said McCombs, who also served as secretary of the voting session. “I was nervous. It’s such a historic moment.”


Although Obama won the Nov. 4 election, that was only a first step in him becoming president. Voters, of course, do not directly elect the president. They elect “electors,” party loyalists committed to one candidate or the other who later have the job of actually electing the president and vice president.


The number of electors in a state is equal to its number of U.S. representatives plus its two U.S. senators. Illinois has 21 electors.


The ritual plays out every four years in Illinois and other states. This year, Secretary of State Jesse White decided to hold the event in the Illinois Senate chamber because Obama once served there.


Electors are given ballots with the names of those who ran for president. The electors fill out the ballots and one-by-one walk to the front of the chamber and deposit the ballots in a box. The votes are counted, but the outcome is never in doubt. The whole process was done in an hour Monday, including a 15-minute break waiting for a late-arriving elector.


The electoral college process has come up for criticism lately because it is possible for a candidate to be elected while not winning a majority of the popular vote, as happened in 2000 when Al Gore won the popular vote, but President George W. Bush won the electoral vote. Illinois passed a law this year that essentially has the state endorsing direct election of the president. Many other states must endorse the plan before it will take effect.


Even two of Monday’s electors said they prefer direct election of the president.


“Some people feel they’re just voting for some electors who may or may not vote for their candidate,” said Rep. Connie Howard, D-Chicago. “I assure them (electors) are pretty much certain to vote for the right candidate. I wish we could get to the point of a more direct vote.”


“I think we should, but I think we won’t because the small states which have an advantage in the electoral college have that same advantage in the U.S. Senate,” said Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago. “In order to change the Constitution, their votes would be required, and I don’t think it is going to happen anytime soon.”


Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or doug.finke@sj-r.com.