U.S. electors gather to cast votes


Now that George W. Bush won the postelection contest, the Electoral College chooses America’s next president.

In state capitals across the country, the 538 electors gather Monday to cast votes for the winner in their state.

The party faithful promise no surprises, but there remains a slim chance that the college could toss yet another curve into this most contested of U.S. elections.

In electoral votes, President-elect George W. Bush holds a scant lead over Vice President Al Gore, 271 267. If two Bush electors switch their votes, it would throw the election to the U.S. House. If three do, it would give the election to Gore.

But Republican electors say they’re holding fast. “I wouldn’t consider it,” said Jane Ham, a Bush elector from Nevada. “I’d have to be completely lacking in integrity.”

But in the last several weeks, an e-mail, letter and phone campaign has sought to persuade some Bush electors to switch because he lost the popular vote even while winning enough states for an electoral-vote victory.

Republican officials nationwide dismissed the campaign, but some electors said they’re keeping watchful.

“The Republicans are nervous,” said Howard Lamb, a Bush elector from Nebraska. “They’re even going to bring us in the day before, put us up in hotel and feed us dinner.”

And though some Democrats have encouraged the wooing of so-called “faithless electors,” others have criticized the tactic.

“It’s unrealistic and I think it would be doomed to failure,” said New York elector Judith Hope, the state Democratic Party chairwoman, “and I think it would be a bad way to win the presidency.”

The meetings themselves vary from state to state: some in small offices, others in the grandeur of the legislative chambers. Alaska electors meet at an Anchorage library, while electors in the District of Columbia gather in city council chambers. Most meetings are wrapped up in an hour or less.

“It’s a historic moment,” said Thomas P. Giblin Jr., chairman of the Democratic State Committee in New Jersey, which went heavily for Gore. “It’s part of the tradition that started over 200 years ago.”

For many electors, their votes will mark the end of a very emotional campaign.

“I go down there with a heavy heart,” said Joyce Savocchio, a Gore elector from Erie, Pennsylvania.

“The way it has turned out doesn’t leave me a sense of exultation,” added Chuck Clay, chairman of Georgia’s Republican party and a Bush elector. “I’m happy. I’m satisfied. There’ll be time for partying at the inauguration.”

Votes are public in most states, while others _ Minnesota, New York, Indiana and Washington, for example _ conduct a secret ballot, though the results are made public.

New York’s ballots are slipped into a 16-pound (7.2-kilogram) mahogany box with a brass latch, from which they’re later removed and read out loud. In Connecticut, they’re placed in a wooden box made from the oak tree where the state’s charter was hidden during colonial times.

Afterward, the results are sent to state and federal officials, with the final national count set for Jan. 5 during a joint session of Congress.