Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, has one more vote to cast in the U.S. presidential election.
David is an elector for New York State, so next Monday he will be in Albany with other Democratic state electors — including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Bill and Hillary Clinton — to cast a vote for Joe Biden. Electors in other states will gather in their respective capital cities to vote the same day, with safety protocols in place everywhere to guard against further spread of COVID-19.
The casting of votes by electors is largely ceremonial — they’re expected to follow the popular vote of their states — but it’s a required step in making the election of a president official. “It’s an honor to serve in this capacity,” David tells The Advocate.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution came up with the Electoral College as a compromise between those who thought Congress should pick the president and those who favored direct election by citizens. They decided the voters in each state should select independent electors, in a number equal to the size of the state’s congressional delegation, and those electors would choose the president. The rise of political parties quashed the idea of electoral independence, as now they’re pledged to a party, and the candidate who wins the popular vote in each state gets the electors.
Today, the Electoral College is known mainly for the fact that it forces major-party presidential nominees to concentrate on campaigning in a few “swing states,” that is, those that aren’t a sure thing for either Democrats or Republicans. As Donald Trump tries relentlessly to overturn the results of November’s vote, some of his supporters have suggested that Republican-majority legislatures in states where Biden’s margin of victory was narrow could decide to discard the Democratic electors and send in Republican ones instead. But that would likely cause widespread outrage, and GOP state lawmakers and governors have not gotten behind such schemes.
No one would try anything like that in New York State, which is heavily Democratic, and in any case, David predicts that all of Trump’s efforts to circumvent the electoral process will fail.
David became an elector because he was nominated to be one. In each state, the major parties nominate slates of electors. David isn’t sure why he was nominated, but he suspects it was because of his work for the state government and in the LGBTQ+ equality movement. Before joining HRC in 2019, he was counsel to Gov. Cuomo, and before that he was a member of the governor’s cabinet as deputy secretary and counsel for civil rights. He’s also been an attorney for Lambda Legal. HRC is based in Washington, D.C., but David remains a legal resident of New York, and during his tenure the organization has opened offices in New York City and Los Angeles as well.
HRC endorsed Biden in May and helped mobilize voters for him and his running mate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California. After four years of Trump’s hostility to LGBTQ+ Americans and a plethora of others, David is particularly gratified to be an elector for the Biden-Harris ticket.
“For the past four years, we have operated in such a regressive and oppressive environment. … It is heartening to see that the majority of people in this country are embracing equality, embracing an alternative that is more inclusive,” he says. “It is truly an honor to be casting my vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.”