Electoral College prepares to cast final vote

Posted: Sunday, December 17, 2000

Hold on -- there's one more election to go. But next week's meeting of the Electoral College should be wrapped up quickly, though with a great deal more attention than in years past.

There will be speeches, catered breakfasts, high school color guards -- and a crush of media on Monday for what is usually a little-noticed affair.

Officials promise no surprises or hangups. ''There's no punch cards,'' said Randy Nehrt, a spokesman for Illinois' secretary of state. ''We don't have to deal with any chads.''

In each state, a slate of electors pledged to the candidate who won in that state will gather to cast the electoral votes. The votes will be read in a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6.

On Monday, electors will gather in their respective capitals -- sometimes in a small office, sometimes in grand legislative chambers. Meetings are usually perfunctory: a few comments, an hour or less of signing documents.

A few states, however, add a little pizzaz. North Carolina will break from the past and bring in a high school color guard, while in Montana a student will sing the national anthem. Students will watch in Indiana and Connecticut. Illinois will cater a continental breakfast.

''Sometimes your friends might come by and give you a lei,'' said Joy Kobashigawa-Lewis, a secretary and Democratic elector from Hawaii who was also an elector in 1996.

There is still a slim chance that the college could upset this most contested of elections.

In electoral votes, President-elect George W. Bush holds a scant lead over Vice President Al Gore, 271-267. If two electors broke their pledges to Bush, it would throw the election to the U.S. House. If three did, it would give the election to Gore.

There have been weeks of speculation and questions about ''faithless electors,'' but no elector has said he or she would consider such a step.

''I don't take it lightly,'' said Claude Billings, a North Carolina elector for Bush. ''I'll certainly stick by my party. I always have.''

Florida's electors keep getting letters telling them what to do about their promise.

''On both sides of the issue,'' said Tom Slade, a Bush elector from Florida who has cast the state's electoral votes twice before. '''Do the right thing and vote for Gore, he really won.' And 'Stay the course.' But I can't imagine that any of Florida's electors would be remotely tempted.''

In Louisiana, Bush elector and GOP Gov. Mike Foster said his computer Thursday morning was jammed with 1,100 e-mails urging him to break his pledge and vote for Gore. He said he wouldn't.

In many states, laws bind electors to their pledge, but others -- like Florida -- have no such law.

Some legal scholars say those laws are not based in the Constitution and probably are unenforceable.

Several electors in the past have broken their pledge, most recently in 1988, but never in a close election where it could change the result.

Though many states say they are making arrangements for the media to attend, most say nothing else will change this year. In Iowa, the traditional photographs will be snapped and placed in the Red Book, the state's historic record.

In Indiana, Secretary of State Sue Anne Gilroy plans to take the opportunity to propose improvements in her state's voting system.

Forty-two counties there use old punch-card systems, like the ones that added confusion to Florida's election.

In most states, the electors' votes are cast in public. In a few, like Washington, Indiana and Minnesota, the votes are cast in secret ballots.

Each elector votes once for president and once for vice president.

Each state's result is copied six times, with one copy each sent to the U.S. Senate and the chief judge of the federal district, and two copies each to the state's secretary of state and to the U.S. archivist in Washington.

''I'm 59 and I don't think I'll ever see another election this close, and I will be one of the deciding votes,'' said Anie Kent, a Bush elector from Tennessee. ''I'll be part of history.''

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