By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Having been active in DFL politics in the state of Minnesota for more than 40 years, it was not really a surprise when Lillian Ortendahl was elected to serve as an elector during her party’s district convention in 2004, meaning that she cast a vote in the Electoral College that ultimately elects the president under the U.S. Constitution.
Ortendahl asked another district convention attendee to place her name in nomination for the elector position. “There was opposition,” Ortendahl said, “but I was elected overwhelmingly.”
Ortendahl, a retired nurse who raised five children with her husband, Loren, has held every possible office in her state House district, state Senate district and congressional district. She has been an affirmative action officer, secretary, treasurer, vice chair and chair.
“I was the first woman elected as a congressional district chair in the early 2000s,” said Ortendahl.
She was inducted into the Women’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Hall of Fame in St. Paul in 2012. She was also given the Hubert Humphrey Award for citizen political activism at the first Humphrey-Mondale dinner in August.
“It was an honor,” Ortendahl said. “I am humbled by it. The recipient was chosen by the state chair and the party.”
This year, as the convention’s treasurer, she was busy out in the hall at the time nominations were being accepted and didn’t even hear that she’d been nominated. She had forgotten all about it, and was only reminded when she received a letter from the governor letting her know that she had been elected to be an alternate.
There are 10 electors in Minnesota — one for each of the state’s Congressional delegation — and eight alternates. Alternates have been included in the formal ceremony in St. Paul only since 2008. The process is coordinated through the Secretary of State’s office.
The electors each sign six copies of the final documents, going to such offices as the Minnesota State Historical Society, the Secretary of State, the United States Historical Society and the governor.
The electors and alternates are encouraged to bring close friends and family to the ceremony.
The Republicans and Democrats elect their electors, who only serve if their party’s nominee wins the election. The ballot is cast in the Governor’s Reception Room at the Minnesota State Capital Building in St. Paul, which was done this year on Dec. 16-17.
The Electoral College is established by the U.S. Constitution to elect a president. Although each eligible citizen is able to cast a vote for president, called the “popular vote,” it is the ballot of the Electoral College in each state that officially elects the president.
“Minnesota is a ‘winner-take-all’ state,” Ortendahl said. “Even if the winning presidential candidate only wins 60 percent of the vote, all 10 electoral votes go to that candidate.”
Every state except Alaska and Maine is a “winner-take-all” state. In Alaska and Maine, the electoral votes are split according to the percentage of popular vote received.
If that were the case in Minnesota, for example, and the winning candidate received 60 percent of the vote, he would receive six of Minnesota’s 10 electoral votes. The opposing candidate or candidates would receive the remaining four of 10 votes.
Nationwide, there are 538 electors, based on the 435 representatives and 100 senators in Congress, plus three electors from the District of Columbia.
There have been two disputed elections where the winner lost the popular vote, but won the Electoral College. In 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes topped Samuel J. Tilden, and in 2000, George W. Bush beat Al Gore. Ironically, both Hayes and Bush won the Electoral College vote based on a disputed popular vote in Florida.
“In 2004, I was determined, with two or three others, to make a change in the electoral system,” Ortendahl said. “But there is not much we can do unless enough people get up in arms about it.”
Ortendahl would like to help educate people, to let them know that voting is so important.
“We want people to really feel their vote counts,” she said. “Shouldn’t the Electoral College vote reflect that? The Electoral College votes should be split according to the popular vote.”