Barbara Lett Simmons, ‘faithless elector,’ is dead at 85

December 27, 2012

Barbara Lett Simmons, seen in December 2000, shortly before casting her protest non-vote (Lucian Perkins/The Washington Post)

Barbara Lett Simmons died Saturday at 85, almost precisely 12 years after her most famous act: failing to cast a presidential electoral vote.

A fuller obituary will follow for Simmons, a Michigan native who trained to be a schoolteacher then rose to prominence in local affairs as a education and Democratic Party activist. She spent 12 years as an at-large member of the District’s board of education and later served as the city’s female elected member of the Democratic National Committee.

But Simmons rose briefly to national prominence in December 2000, when during already contentious and closely watched post-election maneuverings she announced that she was considering withholding her electoral vote from Al Gore and Joe Lieberman as a protest: “I think that it is an opportunity for us to make blatantly clear our colonial status and the fact that we’ve been under an oligarchy,” she said at the time.

In so doing, Simmons became a rare “faithless elector” who failed to deliver a previously pledged electoral vote.

From a Dec. 21, 2000, Post report on the District’s electoral balloting, from Robert E. Pierre:

In the council chambers at One Judiciary Square, city leaders past and present witnessed the event, which was complete with refreshments, dressed-up dignitaries and a high school band.

At first, audience members were unsure what was taking Simmons so long as William H. Simons and Nadine P. Winter, the city’s other two electors, quickly cast their votes and handed them to Beverly Rivers, the city Secretary.

They soon found out why. Simmons addressed the assembled audience as “fellow colonists,” and called the treatment of District residents “immoral, unethical, absolutely wrong and unjust.” The only proper remedy, she said, is for the District to have two voting representatives in the House and two members in the U.S. Senate.

Simons, while casting his ballot for Gore, also said that it is time the city get the right to vote in Congress. A former president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, Simons suggested that city residents abstain from paying their federal taxes.

“I don’t think there’s enough jail cells to hold us all,” Simons said.

There has been only one faithless elector since: An unknown Minnesota Democrat who, presumably by accident, wrote the name of John Edwards on his or her 2004 ballot rather than John Kerry.

This year, three local Democrats cast electoral votes for Barack Obama’s second term — D.C. Council member Yvette M. Alexander, lawyer and Democratic activist Don Dinan, and attorney and former council member Bill Lightfoot. All kept the faith.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · December 27, 2012