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Election 2000

Art Harris discusses the possibility of "unfaithful" electors

December 15, 2000
1:30 p.m. EST
Photo of Art Harris
Art Harris  

Art Harris is a two-time Emmy-award winning correspondent and writer for CNN's Sunday/Monday night show, CNN & TIME.

Chat Moderator: Welcome to Allpolitics chatroom, Art Harris. We are pleased to have you with us today.

Art Harris: Hi there. I report and investigate for our show CNN & Time, and I once covered the south for the Washington Post, but have never seen an election like this one. I am delighted to be here to talk about those electors who are expected to pick George W. Bush and make it official that he is President elect on Monday.

Chat Moderator: It took 35 days to select the electors for this presidential election. With all that has happened, and Vice President Gore himself calling for unity, how likely is that we could see any of these electors switching their votes?

Art Harris: We have been looking into that, and Republican party leaders say it is highly unlikely. But they are taking some extraordinary measures that I've never seen them do before to ensure each Republican elector, all 271 of them, four more than Vice President Al Gore got, will vote for who they are supposed to vote for, George W. Bush. And to let them sleep easy at night, since this is so close and the Constitution allows electors to vote how they wish, it's been up to the party to keep them excited, pep-talked, and loyal. So they are planning dinners the night before the vote and some are hosting breakfasts the morning of the vote. Here in Georgia, the Republican Party state chairman plans to round them up and bus them to the State Capitol where they will dutifully march in and write down the name George W. Bush for president.

Question from NotaDeerintheHeadlights: OK, here's a question for Mr. Harris: With the possibility, however slim, of electors bolting for Gore, and Gore’s winning the popular vote, why the heck is Bush getting money and the title "President-Elect"?

Art Harris: It's not the first time that a president has lost the popular vote, but won the White House. In fact, there was hardly any protest when it happend the last time back in 1888 when, Grover Cleveland, the Democratic incumbent, lost the White House to Republican Benjamin Harrison. This year, because it is so close and there has been so much frustration, resentment, and anger churned up, the question has been raised by Democrats mostly: Could some Republican elector or two or three get religion and come on over to the other side? Experts say doubtful, but possible.

Chat Moderator: Historically, have there been any elections where there have been cases of "faithless electors"?


Art Harris: In fact, it has happened nine times before. We interviewed, and I believe some of you may have had a chance to chat with him last week on, the only living elector who actually switched parties, a North Carolina dentist named Lloyd Bailey. Back in 1968, he was pledged to Richard Nixon and lots of political pundits were shocked when Nixon, a Republican, won North Carolina and made party in-roads into an alien land of barking, yellow- dog Democrats. He was an elephant in the cotton patch.

That didn't bother Bailey until Nixon began picking his Cabinet. And as he told CNN, as an ultra-conservative member of the John Birch Society he just couldn't abide by some of Nixon's cabinet choices or picks for the Supreme Court. He felt they were too liberal, and his conscience, he says, made him vote for George Wallace, the third party candidate, and his running mate, General Curtis LeMay, who you all may remember wanted to nuke Hanoi.

Afterwards, Bailey was an outcast among fellow Republicans, but he says his county went for Wallace and he was just following his conscience. But his jumping ship stirred up so many in Congress that it called a special session to debate Bailey, the Constitution, and whether to let his vote count. In the end, they let it stand.

Question from Demil: What would be the consequences if an elector defected?

Art Harris: In some states-- actually 25 states--have laws on the books that bind electors to vote the way the party votes, and some even threaten fines if they stray. Some even require their vote be thrown out. If that did happen, Congress, under the Constitution, has the power to allow that vote to count or not. Of course, Vice President Al Gore has said he won't accept any Republican defectors, but the Constitution says he doesn't have a choice.

Question from nanette: What on earth might happen if Gore were selected in the electoral balloting?

Art Harris: Let's speculate. Say one Republican elector jumps ship maybe because he or she wanted the attention to get on and a big book deal. No harm done, no foul. History gets made, headlines get written, but no real consequence.

If two jump ship, it would throw the election to Congress and the House of Representatives, which is majority Republican, would pick the president while the Senate would choose the vice president.

If three defected, God only knows! Technically Gore could be president. While procedures are in place under the Constitution, such a thing has never been tested. But as one Republican elector told me, it is about as likely as a comet slamming into earth; another has said that any Republican who did it had better get an identity change or into the witness protection program.

Let's just say there is enough peer pressure and party loyalty after such a hard fought election, that party leaders expect every elector to be fired up just to have the honor to vote for George W. Bush. Or you could say, to paraphrase them, "if you can't trust an elector, who can you trust?"

Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us today?

Art Harris: If I can get a little personal, I have two sons, 12 and 15, and I was stunned that my 12-year old knew all about the electoral college and various scenarios. So it has been a roller coaster politically, but a great civics lesson. And I wonder if any of our readers have had their children asking them questions about it. I guess I just have some trickle down curiosity.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Art Harris.

Art_Harris: Well I appreciate the chance to be here and talk about things that TV doesn't give you the time to do. I look forward to talking with all of you again soon.

Art Harris joined the chat via telephone from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, GA. provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the chat, which took place on Friday, December 15, 2000.

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