- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2000

As Congress prepares for what could be one of the most bitterly fought electoral vote counts in our history, strategy memos about electoral rules and procedures are flying all over Capitol Hill.
The presidential electoral vote ceremony, the final act in the 2000 Election drama, will be played out at a joint session of Congress on Jan 6. Vice President Al Gore, who serves as president of the Senate, will preside.
The casting and counting of 538 electoral votes may seem a long way off right now, but troubling questions have arisen about how it will all play out. Will the legitimacy of some electors, say, in Florida, be challenged? Will Congress be forced to break a tie? Will Democrats follow through on threats to persuade some Bush electors to defect?
My own belief is that it should follow normal constitutional procedures, as it has throughout most of our government's 213-year history. The roll of the states will be called. Mr. Gore will open the envelopes that contain each state's electoral votes and hand it to a teller who will read the vote aloud while clerks tally the numbers.
If all goes according to plan, each slate of electors will vote the will of their states and we will have officially elected our 43rd president.
But in a roller-coaster election cycle such as this one, when the unexpected has happened all too frequently, things may not go according to plan.
If George W. Bush wins Florida, he would have 271 electoral votes, one more than the 270 he needs to become president. If Mr. Gore wins Florida, it would lift his total to 292 electoral votes, 22 more than he needs to win, assuming he wins Oregon, where he is ahead.
Either way, the electoral outcome would seem to be pretty firm. Yet the narrowness of Mr. Bush's projected electoral vote in that event and the bitter legal battles that he and Mr. Gore waged in Florida raise the possibility that this year's electoral vote could become another round in the presidential election battle.
What would happen if Democrats and Republicans, still squabbling in Florida, were to name two competing sets of electors? That happened in Hawaii in 1960 when one slate of electors was named when the vote count showed that Richard Nixon had won the state, and then a Democratic slate was picked when a recount showed that John F. Kennedy had won.
Nixon, who, as vice president, was presiding over the joint session as the electoral roll was called, ruled without objection that the electors for Kennedy should be counted.
Still, anything could happen in the emotionally charged atmosphere of the electoral count process, depending on what happens in Florida.
It only takes one lawmaker each from the House and Senate to object to an electoral vote or a slate of electors. If that happened, each house would meet separately to debate and vote on the objection. Notably, Republican and Democratic leaders were known to be studying the objection procedure if the need arises.
But what happens if Florida's election process fails to produce a slate of electors? In that case, the state legislature, where Republicans have a controlling majority, could name its own electors.
A 1948 federal law provides that if electors are not chosen through the election process, "the electors may be appointed on a subsequent day in such a manner as the legislature of such state may direct."
Under this law, untested in the courts, Gov. Jeb Bush could decide that the state has failed to make a choice, requiring him to convene a special legislative session that would produce the state's 25 electors.
These are just a few of the electoral scenarios being closely studied by both sides in Congress. House Republican Whip Tom Delay is circulating a memo that examines, among other things, an electoral tie.
For example, what happens if Mr. Bush wins Florida and two of his electors defect to Mr. Gore? That would result in a 269-269 tie, with both candidates lacking a majority.
The Constitution provides that if no one has an electoral majority, the House will vote to decide who will be president from the top two vote-getters. Each delegation will have one vote, but with the GOP clearly in command with a 28-18 lead in the state delegations, the result would be a foregone conclusion. Four states have delegations that are evenly split and states that cannot break a tie would not cast a vote.
Under this scenario, after the House finishes voting for president, the Senate would elect the vice president, raising the intriguing possibility of a president and vice president from different parties.
With the electoral margins potentially close, a few rogue or "faithless" electors is also a possibility, though it has rarely occurred.
But that does not mean that Gore partisans might not seek to influence an elector or two if Mr. Bush squeaks through Florida with a razor-thin 271 electoral votes.
Bob Beckel, a veteran Democratic strategist who ran Walter Mondale's losing 1984 campaign, is already at work on a list of Republican electors to see who might be vulnerable to some persuasive Democratic pressure to switch sides. These guys never give up.

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