Sunday, December 17, 2000

Ky. electors savor historic role

'It's always an awesome responsibility'

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FRANKFORT — Earlier this year Michael Shea, a Louisville Republican active in party politics, was offered a choice by Kentucky GOP Chairwoman Ellen Williams:

        Be a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, a near weeklong party attended by the biggest names in GOP politics, or become an elector in the Electoral College.

        Busy with his advertising and political consulting firm - it was, after all, an election year - he was unable to get away to Philadelphia, so Mr. Shea chose the latter.

        “People thought I was crazy to pass up a chance to go to the convention,” Mr. Shea said last week. “Now, I'm looking pretty smart.”

        Mr. Shea, 50, is one of eight people from across Kentucky who will gather Monday morning in the Supreme Court Courtroom on the east side of the State Capitol to help elect George W. Bush president of the United States.

        Mr. Shea is an elector, a group of Republicans who will officially cast one of Kentucky's eight electoral votes for Mr. Bush, as well as a separate vote for his vice president, Dick Cheney.

        The scene will be repeated in every state capitol in the nation Monday. When the voting is over Mr. Bush is expected to receive 271 electoral votes to 267 for Democrat Al Gore, ending the closest Electoral College vote in history.

        “In some ways this is overwhelming, given the historical significance of the election,” Mr. Shea said. “But I'm honored by the opportunity, humbled by the responsibility and just excit ed to be a part of it.”

        The Electoral College, while always a vital part of the presidential election, is receiving uncommon attention this year.

        While Mr. Gore contested the ballots in Florida, that state's 25 electoral votes were unassigned. With the race as tight as it was, an overall winner could not be declared until the Florida contest was decided and its votes went to one of the candidates.

        Last week the U.S. Supreme Court halted the recounting of ballots in Florida and tilted the race in Mr. Bush's favor - more than five weeks after the Nov. 7 election day.

        Newspapers, cable news networks and other media covered the ballot counting, court cases and protests almost around the clock for more than a month.

        As the public watched, many Americans discovered for the first time the importance of the Electoral College and the role of electors.

        “It's always an awesome responsibility,” said Ellen Williams, chairwoman of the Kentucky Republican Party. “But this year a lot more people will be watching and interested because of all that took place in this election.”

        A state's electoral votes are based on its population; they equal the number of seats in Congress each state has. Kentucky has eight congressional seats - two senators and six House members — so it has eight electoral votes.

        In Kentucky, Republicans as well as Democrats each select a slate of eight electors earlier in an election year. There are two at-large electors chosen by party leaders and one from each congressional district in the state elected by members of the party in that district.

        Republicans begin the process of choosing electors in the spring at precinct conventions. The voting continues at the county and district conventions until an elector is, in essence, elected.

        Mr. Bush won Kentucky's popular vote, so he gets all eight of Kentucky's electoral votes. And because he is a Republican, only GOP electors are eligible to cast a ballot Monday.

        But under Kentucky law, Republican electors are not bound to vote for Mr. Bush, though Mrs. Williams said all are expected to do so.

        That hasn't stopped some people from lobbying the GOP electors to vote for Mr. Gore, who actually won the popular vote by more than 300,000 ballots nation wide.

        “I've received a lot of e-mails and letters from people telling me to "do the right thing' and vote for Gore because of the popular vote,” said elector Richard Noss, 46, an industrial products salesman from Paducah.

        “But I've also received plenty of comments from Republicans supporting the Bush campaign. Obviously, I'm going to stay with Bush. There's no question about it.”

        Mrs. Williams said most electors have a “substantial level of involvement” in the GOP or are major donors. Mr. Shea has worked on the staffs of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Senate President David Williams.

        Mr. Noss has been chairman of the McCracken County Republican Party for the last eight years.

        “I was an elector in 1996,” Mr. Noss said, “but I didn't get to vote because (Bob) Dole did not carry Kentucky.

        “So I'm really looking forward to this year. It's exciting because you really are part of history.”


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