Electoral College Puts Bush Over the Top

ByPeter Dizikes

Dec. 18, 2000 -- President-elect George W. Bush has gained every one of the 271 Electoral College votes he was due to receive today, as unyielding support from Republican electors has ensured his grasp on the White House.

Although the votes will not be officially tallied by Congress until Jan. 6, all the state delegations slated to vote for Bush announced the results of their ballots this afternoon.

Despite speculation that “faithless electors” might switch their votes to Democrat Al Gore, who won the popular vote, the Republican slate remained intact and gave Bush one more vote than he needed.

In fact, the sole elector to flip a vote today was a Gore supporter: Barbara Lett-Simmons, an elector in the District of Columbia. Lett-Simmons left a blank ballot in what she said was a means of protesting the District’s lack of congressional representation.

“Taxation without representation is tyranny,” said Lett-Simmons, adding that people could call her a “faithless elector” if they so chose.

It is the first time since 1988 an elector has not chosen the candidate he or she was elected to support.

Although Gore conceded the bitterly contested presidential election last Wednesday, members of the Electoral College did not meet until today to choose the next president.

“I was told by somebody I could get a lot of money if I changedmy vote,” said former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt, a Republican elector. “But I didn’t consider it for a number of reasons. One ofthem was the Lord would strike me dead and I wouldn’t get a chanceto spend the money.”

‘Smooth Sailing’

Bush, the Republican candidate, won states giving him just 271 Electoral College votes to Gore’s 267. But Gore had indicated he would not accept the support of electors changing their votes.

“Al Gore and I don’t expect any surprises,” the vice president’s running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, said today. “We’ve certainly renounced any effort to change any electoral votes.”

But one Bush elector from Virginia, Frances Sadler, said today she had received more than 400 phone calls in the last week about her vote, most of them from people urging her to switch.

While the Bush campaign said before the voting that it expected “smooth sailing,” aides had reached out to all 271 Republican electors in the last week. On Dec. 11, Bush’s running mate, Dick Cheney, and campaign strategist Karl Rove held a conference call intended to keep electors in line.

Several state branches of the GOP also held dinners for their electors on Sunday evening.

Electors Usually Party Loyalists

Most of the 51 Electoral College voting sessions being held today (including all 50 states and the District of Columbia), were open to the press, but in some states, the electors vote by secret ballot — although they had the option of simply announcing which candidate they have voted for.

All 538 votes are being sent to Congress, which will tally them on Jan. 6.

It is highly unusual for electors to stray from the candidate who won the popular vote in their state. The members of the Electoral College themselves tend to be loyal, dedicated party activists selected by state party leaders, and have made it clear in advance they will support their party’s ticket.

Both the Republicans and Democrats submit a slate of electors to the state’s chief elections officer well ahead of Election Day. When a presidential candidate wins a state, his party’s slate of electors are appointed to the Electoral College.

Nevertheless, there were seven electors who did not back their appointed candidate between 1948 and 1988. In the 1988 election, an elector from West Virginia appointed to vote for the Democratic candidate, Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, instead voted for his running mate, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas.

And in 1976, a GOP elector declined to vote for Republican President Gerald Ford, instead opting for the man Ford had defeated in the primaries, Ronald Reagan.

Few Electors Legally Bound

Additionally, relatively few states formally bind members of the Electoral College to the candidate they were chosen to vote for. Eight states have laws requiring electors to vote for that candidate, while another 19 states attempt to lock in the votes with a pledge or an oath.

But 24 states have no relevant laws or pledges whatsoever, and only five states have a legal penalty for electors who go astray. In this year’s Electoral College, 140 of Bush’s electors were not strictly bound to support him.

Had two or more Bush electors become “faithless” today, lowering his total below the magic 270 mark, it would have been up to the U.S. Congress to decide the validity of the votes cast today. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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