- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Vice President Al Gore lost one Electoral College vote yesterday when a D.C. elector submitted a blank ballot to protest the District's lack of full voting rights in Congress.

The blank ballot didn't overturn the overall result, as President-elect George W. Bush won the Electoral College by a 271-to-266 margin. But the protest did mark the latest oddity in one of the country's most unpredictable and contentious elections.

"Taxation without representation is tyranny," Barbara Lett Simmons said in remarks given after she cast her ballot. "Folks, I have cast my ballot for the colonists in the District of Columbia."

Mrs. Simmons, a longtime Democratic activist, said the District is the only region that pays federal taxes but does not have a vote in Congress. Her remarks garnered a brief standing ovation.

Mrs. Simmons and other state's rights advocates face an uphill fight in convincing national leaders that the District is treated unfairly by the federal government, which spent $45,955 per D.C. resident in 1998.

According to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, the typical Americans' per-capita share of federal spending in 1998 was $5,491.

Mrs. Simmons' protest surprised D.C. officials, who were celebrating the 10th time the city had the opportunity to vote in the Electoral College. The District first voted in a presidential election in 1964. It was the first time since 1976 that all of the city's three electoral votes did not go to the Democratic nominee.

The other two D.C. electors, Nadine Winter, 65, and William Simons, 76, cast their votes for Mr. Gore.

Mrs. Simmons, 73, said she made the decision to not vote for Mr. Gore yesterday morning, though she had talked about the possibility as far back as mid-November.

With the Electoral College totals so close, there had been speculation that Mrs. Simmons' protest could cost Mr. Gore an outright claim to the White House. The D.C. vote would have been critical if there had been at least three defections nationwide by Bush electors.

But Mrs. Simmons said she felt there was no way Mr. Gore could win even with the possible defections of "faithless electors" because, as she saw it, the Republican-led Congress would have installed Mr. Bush no matter what the Electoral College results would have been.

"I knew I was not jeopardizing Al Gore's chances to be president when I cast that vote," the longtime Democratic Party activist told The Washington Times. "But this was the window to educate millions of people about what a colonial state is. I could not have gotten this kind of audience if I had walked buck-naked up and down Pennsylvania Avenue. But today, people will probably hear what I have to say."

The protest drew praise from the head of the District's Democratic Party, Norm Neverson, who said he also felt the deck was stacked for Mr. Bush.

"The deal was cut weeks ago," said Mr. Neverson. "If the Supreme Court didn't do it, the Florida Legislature would, and if not that, the U.S. Congress."

Other Democrats, though, were upset about the protest.

Ward 1 Council member Jim Graham, a Democrat, left the ceremony after Mrs. Simmons signed the documents.

"Very disappointed," Mr. Graham said, adding the incident showcases the need to banish the Electoral College.

One of the other two electors, Mr. Simons, said Mrs. Simmons was within her right to vote how she felt.

"I didn't know what to think," Mr. Simons said. "I had taken the oath that I was going to support the party."

Even Mayor Anthony A. Williams was caught off guard. His aides had to rush to their computers and fix a press release included in media packets stating the District would award its three electoral votes to Mr. Gore.

The Electoral College vote went more predictably in Virginia and Maryland.

At the state Capitol in Richmond, all 13 electors, as expected, cast their votes for Mr. Bush before a chamber packed with TV crews and reporters.

Before the vote, Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III told the electors they had a moral obligation to vote for Mr. Bush.

"You are bound, if not by legal code then certainly by a moral code, to cast your ballots as the will of the people directed," Mr. Gilmore said, and he defended the Electoral College as an appropriate tool to select the president.

Electors said they never wavered in their commitment to Mr. Bush, though some of them received phone calls, postcards and e-mails from folks trying to convince them to vote for Mr. Gore.

One of the electors, Vincent F. Callahan Jr., a McLean resident who is also a member of the Virginia House, was elected president of the state delegation of electors. As one of his duties, he read the list of officials who would be notified of the electors' vote, including Mr. Gore, who doubles as the president of the U.S. Senate.

Mr. Callahan smiled while reading that name: "You don't know how much pleasure that gives me," he said.

In Annapolis, Gov. Parris N. Glendening also spoke to Maryland's 10 electors about the importance of the day's action.

"The last few weeks have taught more Americans about the electoral process than all the political science courses in the last 100 years," said Mr. Glendening, who taught government and politics at the University of Maryland-College Park for more than 20 years.

Mr. Glendening said the electoral vote is "a celebration of the strength and endurance of democracy."

Other Democrats weren't so gracious.

"Being able to vote for Al Gore today relieves some of the pain," said Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., president of the Maryland Senate. "We know who won the election."

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