Three `Faithless Electors' Could Still Give Election to Gore

By Murray, Frank J. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 15, 2000 | Go to article overview

Three `Faithless Electors' Could Still Give Election to Gore


Murray, Frank J., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


A month-long crusade to persuade three of Texas Gov. George W. Bush's 271 hard-won electors to switch sides still could make Vice President Al Gore president.

In his concession speech Wednesday, Mr. Gore assured Americans that the Electoral College would ratify Mr. Bush as president-elect when electors meet Monday in 50 state capitals and in the District of Columbia.

But there is nothing in the law or Constitution that can prevent "faithless electors" from deserting their candidate. That has sparked speculation since November, when a veteran Democratic operative said that he was "trying to kidnap" Bush electors who might be willing to switch to Mr. Gore.

And in the five weeks since Election Day, tens of thousands of e-mails, letters and phone calls bombarded 172 Bush electors as a result of an Internet campaign engineered by two California college students, who say the popular vote should prevail over the Electoral College.

"I think this is exactly the kind of situation where the Founders, who originated the Electoral College, might want unbound electors to exercise discretion," said Beverly Ross, of Coral Gables, Fla., co-author of an Electoral College study cited twice in Tuesday's Supreme Court decision in the case of Bush vs. Gore.

There is precedent for mass defection as recently as 1960, when six Alabama electors who signed pledges to Sen. John F. Kennedy voted for Sen. Harry Byrd, Virginia Democrat, under a segregationist plan hatched by a Montgomery, Ala., lawyer who also persuaded Oklahoma elector Dr. Henry D. Irwin to switch from Richard Nixon to Mr. Byrd.

Other electors made their political statement one at a time, but none ever changed an election outcome. No electors switched sides in 1876, when Rutherford B. Hayes won by one vote in the Electoral College.

Mr. Gore would have to get votes from three "faithless electors" to achieve the 270 electoral votes needed to become president. Gaining those three electors is the goal of an organized effort to convince Bush electors that Mr. Gore's 337,576 popular-vote plurality trumps the Constitution's system for choosing presidents.

Two switchers would only tie the vote 269-269 and throw the election into the House, where a Republican majority is likely.

There are 140 Bush electors totally unbound either by state law or signed pledge - including 11 in Mr. Gore's home state of Tennessee, where the electoral vote is by secret ballot. The remaining 131 - including 59 in other states using secret ballots - know that no "faithless elector" has ever been prosecuted for switching sides.

In 1952, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that political parties could require electors to sign a pledge to vote for their party's nominee for president. Six states and the District have such a pledge, enforceable by party discipline.

Twenty states have statutes binding delegates to vote for the candidate they were elected to vote for. New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Carolina prescribe criminal penalties and three others - North and South Carolina and Michigan - nullify "faithless" votes and replace the elector on the spot.

When published reports identified four Bush electors as potential converts, those four were bombarded with calls, pro and con, more heavily than the overall group.

"I am casting my vote for George W. Bush," said Frances Sadler, of Ashland, Va., contradicting those reports.

"No way would I switch," said Joe Arpaio, of Scottsdale, Ariz., the sheriff of Maricopa County, who gained fame for housing 1,400 of his 7,300 jail inmates in a tent city, forcing female convicts to work on chain gangs, and muting macho males by clothing them in stripes and underwear dyed pink.

"I guess you have First Amendment rights, but if they come down here and violate any law, try to bribe me or anybody else, they're going to be in Tent City wearing pink underwear," Sheriff Arpaio told The Washington Times. …

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