- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000

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.

The other two electors targeted in a Wall Street Journal report Wayne McDonald, of Derry, N.H., and Mamon Wright, of Memphis, Tenn. were not answering phones or taking messages.

While the recount still was at an impasse, the vice president's campaign actively studied ways to recruit enough electors to win, even as it publicly repudiated free-lance efforts to "kidnap" a few votes, The Times learned from an authority on the Electoral College who was advising the Gore organization.

"Gore is three electors away from a victory, two away from a tie. Some might defect," he said, refusing to respond when asked if any recruits were on board.

His statements seemed to contradict public disavowals by Gore strategists, including former Secretary of State Warren G. Christopher.

"The vice president has said he never would engage in that kind of activity and I'm sure he wouldn't. I believe he would discourage it," Mr. Christopher said.

"No matter what happens in Florida, switching electors will still be an open question… . Gore and Christopher can't control that," said former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, a Democrat.

"I take Secretary Christopher at his word. Mario is dreaming," countered John Sununu, former Republican governor of New Hampshire and President Bush's first chief of staff. "Republican electors aren't leaning one iota toward changing their commitment."

That was the view from Bush headquarters in Austin after supportive conference calls urging Republican electors to stay true, according to campaign spokesman Ray Sullivan.

"It's certainly unusual for one side to contact the others. We were disappointed with the Democrats' efforts to investigate Republican electors and try to pressure them into switching," Mr. Sullivan said.

"We expect our electors to support Governor Bush," he said.

The Gore campaign consultant, who asked not to be identified, also said the now-defeated Florida slate of Democratic electors still could meet Monday and mail their vote to Washington without certification. If that happened, according to a National Archives official, the competing slate also would be placed before the Joint Session of Congress on Jan. 6.

The Times learned yesterday that Florida Democrats had a contingency plan to do precisely that. Until Mr. Gore's concession speech, the plan was so solid the Democratic Party reserved a meeting room in the state Capitol.

"We had to be prepared," Tony Welch, Florida Democratic Party communications director, said in an interview when asked if that prospect had been floated.

"More than raised and studied if there was no concession and the Florida Legislature had done what we think is illegal and Gore had won the vote based on a recount, we were ready with our electors meeting," Mr. Welch said.

"My understanding is that, as of this very moment, our electors are not going to meet," Mr. Welch added, saying that reflected the policy of Florida Democratic Chairman Bob Poe.

Susan Cooper, spokeswoman for the National Archives, which administers Electoral College affairs, confirmed such a ploy would put a conflicting slate's claim before Congress, as occurred in 1960, when Hawaii sent three claims for their three electoral votes, two of them certified by succeeding governors of opposite parties.

"What we did in that case and what we would do again, if the situation comes up, is let Congress decide. We would send forward any certificates we received," Miss Cooper said.

Dozens of Bush electors contacted by The Times uniformly reported barrages of phone calls, e-mails and letters. About one-third were from Democrats urging them to switch sides, and most of the rest asked them to stick to their guns, they said.

"No one has been so indecorous as to be threatening or to say they'd open a seven-figure bank account for me in the Caymans, but a lot of callers seemed to come from the shallow end of the gene pool," said West Virginia elector John McCutcheon, executive director of the Bush campaign in that state.

Much of that uprising was the Internet-based brainchild of government majors David Enrich, 21, of Boston, and Matt Grossmann, 21, of Columbia, Mo., at Claremont-McKenna College in California.

Their project began two years ago under the name Citizens for True Democracy to abolish the Electoral College system. It transformed on Dec. 10 into Vote With America, whose Web site (www.votewithamerica.com) sparked the outpouring of e-mail to 172 Bush electors, whose addresses were posted.

"We hope that two or three electors will agree with our logic," said Mr. Enrich, who said he and Mr. Grossmann side with neither candidate. He also said they do not endorse the implied threat of investigating electors' backgrounds that was raised by Democratic consultant Bob Beckel of Alexandria during a cable-television interview.

"I'm trying to kidnap these electors in states that [Mr. Bush] won that are not legally bound to him that have a right to vote how they want to," said Mr. Beckel, whose plan was publicly disavowed by Mr. Christopher.

While conceding that Mr. Beckel would not break any laws so long as he avoided coercive acts that look like extortion, constitutional law professor Paul Campos, of the University of Colorado, countered with a war of words against the crusade.

"I think the unfortunate tendency we have in this culture is to equate what is legal with what is sort of decent," Mr. Campos told The Times. "You can go on television and announce your plans to burgle the presidency of the United States, and nobody blinks an eye. The very fact that Beckel's plan could actually succeed … is a testament to the risk that a kind of mad corruption will soon engulf this whole affair."

Mr. McCutcheon, the West Virginia elector, agreed and said the modest Beckel plan to find three votes may fail only because he went public, galvanizing Republican slates nationwide.

"Beckel might have succeeded if he hadn't been open and notorious," Mr. McCutcheon said. "What the coordinated effort by the other side has done is make us all stick together."

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