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    Electors are thrust into prominence

    Florida's GOP electors cast historic votes today, and they say the pressure to switch has been unusual.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 18, 2000

    TALLAHASSEE -- Florida's 25 Republican electors will gather here today to cast their votes for president and take part in an extraordinary chapter in American history.

    Times have certainly changed.

    The Electoral College has long been an obscure and boring process of electing a president after the drama of the popular vote is over -- just ask former Florida Republican Party Chairman Tom Slade.

    He was an elector in 1992, when then-President George Herbert Walker Bush carried Florida, but lost re-election to Bill Clinton. Republican electors came to town, obligated to cast Florida's votes for Bush.

    "It was a three-minute ceremony. We took a couple of pictures and went out and had a drink," Slade recalled.

    Today, "it is a significantly changed kind of environment," said Slade, one of the 25 electors who will cast their votes today.

    That's an understatement.

    For the first time since John Quincy Adams became president in 1825, America will have a son of a president become president. Bush's son, George W. Bush, the governor of Texas, is now president-elect.

    And for the first time since Benjamin Harrison became president in 1889, Americans will have a president who did not win the popular vote. Democratic Vice President Al Gore won the national popular vote, but Bush took the presidency, with Florida's 25 electoral votes putting him over the top.

    The close race in Florida put Tallahassee in the spotlight for five weeks, as legal and legislative battles waged over who really got the most votes. Gore conceded last week, after a U.S. Supreme Court decision essentially barred the state from further vote recounts.

    Now, the pressure has moved to electors around the country, who meet in state capitals today to cast their votes for president. To be elected, a president must receive 270 of the 538 electoral votes. Bush is expected to win by the slimmest of margins -- 271 to Gore's 267.

    The danger is if any elector switches his or her vote. Electors are supposed to support the candidate who wins the popular vote in their states, and electors in some states are subject to fines if they vote against their party's nominee. There are no such penalties in Florida.

    Slade and other electors are being deluged with letters and phone calls from people on all sides of the issue.

    "About one-third have called urging me to switch, and two-thirds have called annoyed at the whole process (the campaign of letters and phone calls)," said Florida elector Charles Kane, a Stuart lawyer heavily involved in Republican politics for 20 years.

    He has no plans to switch his vote to Gore, and it is highly unlikely that any other Florida elector would switch. Electors are usually chosen because of their party loyalty and prominence in state politics.

    Florida's electors include Florida Senate President John McKay and House Speaker Tom Feeney, former House Speaker John Thrasher, state university system Chancellor Adam Herbert, Orange County Chairman Mel Martinez, Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood, and prominent Tampa developer and GOP fundraiser Al Austin.

    The names and phone numbers of several Florida electors are posted on the Web, part of a campaign by Citizens for True Democracy. The group, created by college students, advocates direct popular elections to replace the Electoral College.

    The group obtained contact information for 172 electors in 18 states, and has pinpointed some electors, none from Florida, who might be persuaded to change their vote.

    The site guides supporters with a script for a phone call to electors: "I'm calling to let you know that I think you should vote with America on Dec. 18. Al Gore won the most votes nationally and therefore deserves to be the next president. As one of 538 electors, you have the power to prevent the Electoral College from contradicting the nation's popular vote. If that happens, American democracy will face a serious legitimacy crisis."

    Kane said he has been getting calls from around the country, one just recently from a Best Western hotel in New Mexico.

    "I usually stop them and and say, "I'm an elector for George W. Bush; I will vote for George W. Bush.' "

    Sandra Faulkner, a Republican elector from Palm Harbor, said she is relieved that the Web site got her phone number wrong. She has no plans to switch her vote, and is excited about the prospect of casting her vote in the state capital today.

    Bush's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, will preside over the ceremony, which will take place at noon in the Senate chambers of the Capitol.

    The Democratic Party had reserved the Senate chamber in the Old Capitol building, to possibly cast a ceremonial vote for Gore because he won the popular vote. But it abandoned plans after Gore conceded.

    Florida's GOP electors:

    Charles W. Kane, Dorsey C. Miller, Maria De La Milera, Glenda E. Hood, Sandra M. Faulkner, Dawn Guzzetta, H. Gary Morse, Armando Codina, Carole Jean Jordan, Tom Slade, Marsha Nippert, Robert L. Woody, John Thrasher, Mel Martinez, Feliciano M. Foyo, Al Hoffman, Alfred S. Austin, Thomas C. Feeney III, John M. McKay, Cynthia M. Handley, Darryl K. Sharpton, Adam W. Herbert, Berta J. Moralejo, Jeanne Barber Godwin, Deborah L. Brooks.

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