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'Playing the electoral game'

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

Citizens around the country Wednesday were faced with the possibility of a split between the electoral college and the popular vote as they awaited the results of a recount in Florida, where the race was too close to call.

Gore held a slight lead in the popular vote most of the day, but a Bush victory in the Sunshine State would propel him to victory regardless.

The election is unlike any other in modern times, and has political enthusiasts considering the potential outcomes.

"If the Electoral College is really close, there are all kinds of possibilities that may turn into probabilities," said Michael Fulda, professor of political science at Fairmont State College.

"Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that electors have to vote the way they are pledged. If it's close, there is suddenly a possibility for people to start playing the electoral game."

Although it rarely has an impact on the election, it is not unprecedented for an elector to change sides. It happened with one West Virginia elector in 1988. One elector pledged to support George Bush, then instead voted for Michael Dukakis. The Democrat carried the state, but Bush handily won in the electoral and overall popular vote.

The election could come down to just an electoral vote or two, meaning that such a switch this year could decide the election or cause a tie in the Electoral College.

But the constitution has provisions that should resolve such a tie.

The 12th amendment, ratified in 1804, states that, if an electoral tie occurs, the new House of Representatives will vote for president.

But individual votes of the representatives will not count. Instead, they will vote by state delegation. For example, West Virginia's three house members, Democrats Alan Mollohan and Nick Rahall and Republican Shelley Moore Capito will meet and decide as a group to whom the state's vote will go.

A simple majority is needed to win.

In the event that the house ties, the matter then moves to the new senate. Unlike the house, senators vote individually. Again, a simple majority is needed to win.

If the election ties there, the sitting vice president, in this case Gore, becomes acting president until the house can reach a decision.

The race going to any of those extremes is highly unlikely, Fulda said.

"It's possible, but I wouldn't worry about it," he said.

Although some area residents said it wouldn't be right for the popular vote getter to lose the election, Fulda doubts there will be enough public sentiment to change to the Electoral College system, which would require a constitutional amendment.

"It's just like campaign finance reform," he said. "There are enough people who benefit from the current system, or who think they do, that it's not likely to be changed."

More information about the Constitution is available on the Internet at, "www.usconstitution.net."

Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404 or by e-mail at pdarst@exponent-telegram.com.

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