A last electoral hurdle for Obama
A Web-driven challenge to his legitimacy targets members of the Electoral College.
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A disparate, Web-connected campaign appears to be driving the effort to contact electors ahead of the Dec. 15 meetings of the college in each state’s capital. It also includes a letter-writing effort to urge the US Supreme Court to intervene. One website, obamacrimes.com, has reportedly received 105 million hits in the past three months, speaking to the pervasiveness of the belief, perhaps fueled by Obama’s multiethnic background and globe-trotting childhood, that the president-elect was born abroad.Skip to next paragraph
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Legal challenges over Obama’s citizenship
Two pending lawsuits could yet get an audience before the Supreme Court prior to Dec. 15, and a movement is also afoot to sue secretaries of state over the certification issue. Some say the Founders intended the Electoral College to serve as the final certification board for candidates. The US has no other independent certification process, relying instead on vetting by courts, voters, and the press during the campaign.
“People are going after electors now because they can only vote for a qualified candidate, and [Obama] hasn’t shown he’s qualified,” says Philip Berg of Lafayette Hill, Pa., a Democrat and lawyer who has filed two lawsuits calling Obama’s citizenship into question. “I think we have enough trouble – we don’t need a fake president.”
Melanie Siewert, a stay-at-home mom in Kernersville, N.C., says her lobbying efforts mark the first time she’s been actively involved in the political process. The questions raised by lawyers like Mr. Berg, she says, are substantial enough to throw doubt on Obama’s eligibility.
“I’m not asking electors to overturn their vote, but really to, before we vote, to make absolutely sure,” says Ms. Siewert, who has contacted most of North Carolina’s 15 electors. “This is not being a sore loser or racist. This is just about ensuring that our leader is being truthful about who he is.”
Fueled by a historic presidential race that promised a dramatic shift in the direction of American power, the Obama citizenship flap, some experts say, shows that conspiracy theories still resonate with a subset of Americans. Over the years, the legitimacy of presidents from Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln has been questioned, though none about their citizenship status.
“Human beings will always go for myth because it’s compelling, dramatic, and, if it were true, it would be able to change history,” says Perry Leavell, a presidential historian and folklore expert at Drew University in Madison, N.J. “You can go back into the history of the American presidency and find over and over again people ... who are prepared to believe the exact opposite of what all the data would say.”
Though many electors are bound by state law to cast their vote for the winning candidate, their constitutional role as federal agents means that any vote they cast on Dec. 15 will count. What’s more, their importance could come into sharper relief if new information about Obama’s citizenship status were to surface before Dec. 15, says James Ceaser, a political scientist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
“The only time the electors’ role might change ... is if something occurred during the election which afterwards made things look really strange,” says Mr. Ceaser. “That’s why I believe personally that human discretion should be involved in every decision until the last second, that nothing should be automatic.”