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latimes.com: Agitators probe for defectors among electors

latimes.com (Los Angeles Times) -- As the two major parties near the end of their vicious war for the White House, Democratic activists and would-be political reformers are quietly pressing Republican electors to do the unthinkable: Vote for Democrat Al Gore.

Less a movement than a series of individual and overlapping acts, the agitators seek to split away two or three votes from among George W. Bush's anticipated 271 Republican electors when the all-important electoral college convenes Dec. 18.

If three Bush electors defect and vote for Gore, then the Democrats would win the White House regardless of the current court battles. If two defect, the election would be sent to the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.

While few expect the agitators to succeed in creating what are known as "faithless electors," their efforts add yet another odd twist to an election that has already set new standards for bizarreness.

The biggest hurdle is the nature of the electors themselves--most are selected as a payoff for years of party loyalty. And Gore himself has rebuffed the efforts.

"We're very proud to have earned the popular vote support during this election, but we are not seeking nor in anyway trying to get electors to switch over," Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said Tuesday.

Lehane, however, acknowledged that, in the unlikely event the effort is successful, Gore would have little choice but to accept the presidency, despite earlier comments by the vice president that he would reject the votes.

"They can vote for whomever they choose, and if Gore gets 270 votes in the electoral college he's the president," said Erwin Chemerinsky, a professor at the USC Law School. "He has no authority to concede the election to Bush in a legal sense, though if he does by announcement then it's less likely that the electors would [flip]."

Those involved in the effort range from two Claremont McKenna College seniors dismayed by the prospect of seating a president who placed second in the popular vote, to a New Hampshire lab technician who urged his state's four electors to reject tradition for the public will.

"I think there is corruption, and the election was unfair in Florida," said Thomas Richard, a Concord, N.H., Gore supporter. "Electors have some discretion in who they vote for in New Hampshire. They're not bound by state law to vote for the elector that they're pledged to. So they ought to use their discretion, especially when the election was so close and the popular vote was greater for Gore."

In Pennsylvania, T.J. Rooney, a state representative from the Lehigh Valley and a Democratic elector, has undertaken his own campaign to buttonhole four or five Republican electors he knows in other states to entice them to vote for Gore.

"They listen to what I have to say," Rooney said. "Perhaps they're just listening out of kindness or collegiality, but I think there's a strong case to be made. . . . I am firmly of the opinion that if every vote was counted in Florida, [Gore] will have earned the 25 electors."

David Enrich is one of the Claremont McKenna students behind the Citizens for True Democracy Web site at http://www.claremontmckenna.com/ctd/index.html that urges people to lobby Republican electors to vote for Gore. The Web site has received more than 54,200 visits since it was posted two days after the election.

Enrich said he and roommate Matt Grossmann of Columbia, Mo., are targeting the process, not the candidates, and would have sought Gore defectors had the circumstances been reversed.

"This is an effort on our part to draw attention to a system that we think is grossly unfair and anti-democratic and in great need of reform," said Enrich, 21, of Boston. "We think this is kind of a golden opportunity to reform it."

But Republicans see something more nefarious going on--an attempt by Democrats to circumvent the process.

"It is in keeping with some of the usual tactics we've seen by the Democrats since the election," said Bush spokesman Ray Sullivan. "Ultimately, we believe that Republican electors across the country are and will continue to be committed to Gov. Bush and do not believe that they will be persuaded to turn their backs on their party or on our nominee."

While some Republican electors have been swamped with e-mails, others said they're aware of the campaign but have not been contacted. Still others said they have heard from more fellow Republicans urging them to stand firm than from people encouraging them to flip.

One of the more overt efforts began with Bob Beckel, a longtime Democratic analyst and chairman of Walter F. Mondale's 1984 White House campaign. Beckel announced in the days after the November election that he was amassing information on Republican electors to try to find ways to persuade them to shift allegiances.

Beckel has since said he meant only to gather information on how to contact the electors. But his initial announcement unleashed a storm of protests by Bush supporters. Repeated attempts to reach Beckel for comment were unsuccessful.

For all their efforts, the agitators face a considerable tide of history. There has been only a handful of faithless electors going back almost 200 years, and none affected an election's outcome.

Marcia Nippert, chairwoman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Florida's Sarasota County, has no intention of becoming a footnote to electoral college history.

"My job is to reflect the vote of Florida, and that's for George W. Bush. I would be remiss if I didn't represent my state," Nippert said. "It's a little bit insulting. I consider that I'm doing the right and appropriate thing by voting for George W. Bush."

John McCutcheon of Caldwell, W. Va., is one of the few electors whose e-mail address is posted in the Citizens for True Democracy Web site. He is receiving about two dozen messages a day urging him to vote for Gore.

But he said he's getting twice that amount from fellow Republicans.

"The more inspiring ones are from folks who say, 'Look, I hear you're getting beat up. Stick to your guns,' " said McCutcheon, a political consultant and executive director of the Bush campaign in West Virginia.

McCutcheon, like most of the Republican electors, is a veteran of campaigns and said he takes the contacts in stride, deleting most of them as he would junk e-mail.

"You could set me on fire and I wouldn't change my mind," he said.


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Thursday, December 7, 2000

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