Did you vote for president? Answer: No, you didn’t.
If you filled in a box last month next to Donald Trump’s name, or Hillary Clinton’s (or … OK … Gary Johnson’s or Jill Stein’s), you were really voting for their pledged electors to the Electoral College – that sometimes puzzling parliament that meets every four years, in each state, to actually cast votes for president.
There are 538 such electors in the country, including 55 in California – and Natalie Fortman, a 20-year-old College of the Canyons sophomore from Valencia, is one of them.
The world will be watching on Monday as Fortman and the other 537 electors gather in statehouses across the country to make official the results of the November election, in which Clinton outpolled Trump in the popular vote, but Trump prevailed in the electoral vote and hence won the White House.
Well … won the White House pending Monday’s Electoral College vote.
“I’m was very humbled, and shocked, and very grateful,’’ Fortman told The Signal on Friday as she recalled that time in September when she learned she would soon become a little piece of American history.
How did it happen?
Fortman — who will drive to Sacramento with her mom, Annette, and sister, Katy, for Monday’s proceedings (her dad, John, can’t make it) – had been working as an intern for Bryan Caforio, the Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives from Santa Clarita’s 25th Congressional District.
She started in May, even before the primaries – and according to Orrin Evans, a Caforio-campaign higher-up, she quickly impressed them with her passion and her smarts.
Then in September, Fortman recalled, Caforio and Evans took her aside and asked if she’d like to be Caforio’s choice as elector from the 25th District. Congressional candidates from each party pick presidential electors, and Fortman was Caforio’s choice.
After she caught her breath, Fortman quickly said yes.
“He noticed that I was very passionate about politics,’’ said Fortman, an environmental policy analysis major at COC who’s looking to go to UC-Davis and become an environmental lawyer.
“They called me in and explained that Bryan had the power to appoint an elector, which I didn’t even know. I was very shocked he chose me. But I was just really excited, and very honored.’’
Said Caforio, who lost his congressional race to Republican Steve Knight: “Natalie Fortman is one of the best and brightest of her generation. Natalie not only talks about positive social change, but is willing to work and sacrifice for it.’’
Fortman is pledged to Clinton on Monday, and plans to vote for the former First Lady and secretary of state, as well as for Tim Kaine (Clinton’s running mate) for vice president – electors actually cast votes for each office, not just the party ticket.
It was important for Fortman to be clear about that on Friday, amid calls in some sectors for electors to go rogue and deny Trump the White House. The technical term for that is to be an “unfaithful elector.”
It’s happened only a handful of times in American history, and never tipped an election the other way. It’s unlikely to happen to any great degree on Monday, even as celebrities such as Martin Sheen, Debra Messing and Noah Wyle, in a video titled “Message for Electors to Unite for America,” push for GOP electors to “vote their conscience.”
“As you know, our founding fathers built the Electoral College to safeguard the American people from the dangers of a demagogue and to ensure that the presidency only goes to someone who is, to an eminent degree, endowed with the requisite qualifications,” Sheen says in video.
Fortman, in fact, said she received a letter from one voter urging her to be “unfaithful” and vote, not for Clinton, but instead for a Republican other than Trump.
But she’s sticking with Clinton. And she’s not looking to be part of some electoral earthquake on Monday.
“I personally have not tried to sway any Trump supporters,’’ Fortman said.
She did, however, say she’ll be interested to see if there’s any debate and discussion, or politicking, among electors before Monday’s voting.
Trump won 306 electoral votes to Clinton’s 232 – numbers that don’t figure to change very much. Clinton won California, so all the state’s 55 votes are ticketed for her.
“I’m really excited, with everything going on lately in the news, with (some) people calling for the end of the Electoral College — maybe this is one of the last times the Electoral College meets,” Fortman said.
That’s highly unlikely, said Phil Gussin, a political science professor at COC.
“In modern times there’s debate over whether (the Electoral College) is still useful,’’ Gussin said. “It’s a useful exercise to discuss (the end of the Electoral College) in a classroom setting, but the reality is, it’s not going to happen.
“There are some benefits and some costs that come from the Electoral College,’’ he added. “The costs are most obvious – somebody who loses the popular vote can win the presidency. But the benefit is, in order to win, you have to win a broad coalition of states, like Trump did, whereas in a (purely) popular vote, you could just go into highly populated areas and get lots of people to vote for you there.’’
But for now … with Electoral College Monday at hand … any such debates are moot.
And after Monday, when somebody asks Natalie Fortman if she voted for president, she can say, truly, “You’re darn right I did.”