OLYMPIA — No surprises or stray votes sidetracked Washington’s Democratic electors from selecting Joe Biden as the nation’s next president Monday afternoon.
From the socially distanced confines of the Senate Chambers, a communal sigh of relief and modest applause followed Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s announcement that the state’s 12 Electoral College ballots were cast for president-elect Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris. The Democratic ticket won Washington with nearly 58% of the popular vote.
“The ceremony and tradition of this meeting marked an end to one of the most contentious elections of our time,” said Wyman, her voice quavering with emotion. “While some people continue to call into question this election, average citizens from all walks of life will step up today to exercise their responsibility to perform their constitutional duty.”
Jack Arends, 64, of Everett, was one of 538 electors nationwide with that honor and onus Monday. As the lone elector from Snohomish County, the self-described grassroots activist represented the 2nd Congressional District on his mission to Olympia. With a life-threatening medical condition, he’s just glad he had the opportunity.
“This was something I never anticipated, but the moment and the issues kind of came together and I thought it was something I had to do,” he told The Daily Herald last week.
As COVID-19 chaos cancelled party conventions and caucuses, Arends, a precinct committee officer for two decades, recognized an opportunity to return normalcy to the elector position.
Three of the “faithless electors,” including Bret Chiafalo, of Everett, cast ballots for former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and one supported Faith Spotted Eagle, a Native American leader in South Dakota.
Days after his selection as an elector, Arends’ role took on additional meaning. Doctors told him a heart valve problem was inoperable, he said. After 64 years, Arends’ days were numbered.
Still, he had no hesitation about the job left to finish.
“I don’t know how much time I am going to have on this earth, but I am going to make it count while I am here and that includes being an elector,” Arends told The Herald ahead of the proceedings. “It’s that one last box I want to check — I am determined to check it.”
In a suit and Kangol brimmed cap, Arends entered the floor of the Senate in a wheelchair and was greeted by scattered applause from fellow electors.
With pomp and circumstance at a minimum, Wyman, a Republican, and Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, briefly addressed the electors.
“What we are going to prove today is masks don’t stop the voices of democracy,” the governor said.
Wyman then began the heavily scripted process of casting and confirming selections.
Forgoing the ceremonial quill pens used to cast elector ballots, Arends used a permanent marker to cast his vote for the Democrats. Fatigued by President Donald Trump signing legislation in a similar fashion, Arends figured he would use a Sharpie to deliver a bold and indelible message of his own: Biden won.
Despite weekend clashes between anti-facist protesters and right-wing supporters that included a shooting on the capitol campus — a 25-year-old Shoreline man was arrested in connection with the incident — the proceeding went off without a hitch.
After votes were cast, electors were given a chance to address the floor.
“Today is a chance to begin the end of the Trump administration. I was glad to do my duty …” Arends said. “It will be up to others to do the hardest work of rebuilding our nation as my health is fading.”
After his remarks, Arends wept silently, his head down against the wooden desk.
“It’s a great weight lifted from my shoulders being able to do this,” he said. “I feel gratified to do what we were elected to do.”
Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.