Faithless Elector Watch: Al Gore Says No Dice

In his statement praising the Florida Supreme Court’s favorable Nov. 21 ruling, which could clear the way for a dimpled-chad Gore victory, the vice president expressed strong disapproval for Electoral College faithlessness of the type once contemplated by the popular novelist James A. Michener and more recently advocated by Bob Beckel, Matthew Miller, Daniel Schorr, the Coalition Coalition, Citizens for True Democracy, and some visitors to E the People, a Web site that promotes political activism in every conceivable direction at once. Here is what Gore said:

Both Gov. Bush and I should also continue to urge our supporters to tone down their rhetoric and lift up our common respect for democracy. Some of my own supporters have emphasized the fact that we won the national popular vote, but our Constitution requires victory in the Electoral College. I completely disavow any effort to persuade electors to switch their support from the candidate to whom they are pledged. I will not accept the support of any elector pledged to Gov. Bush.

Chatterbox has five thoughts about Gore’s anti-faithlessness stance:

1) The Florida Supreme Court decision so improves Gore’s chances of winning in the Electoral College that he may have more to lose than to gain from any unconventional behavior on the part of electors. If Gore looks like he has it in the bag, maybe Bush will try to sway electors (though he’d have to sway a lot more, and he’d lack the “I won the popular vote” argument). As Chatterbox has written before, the Republicans probably have someone looking into Electoral College faithlessness scenarios, though whoever it is seems to be better at keeping it quiet than Bob Beckel.

2) The possibility that Bush will goose the Republican-controlled Florida legislature into trying to unseat Gore electors, which James Baker has already hinted at, makes it imperative that Gore be consistent in his “trust the voter” stance. And that, of course, means being very stern about Electoral College faithlessness, even if it’s intended to honor the national popular vote.

3) Beckel, who is collecting information on Republican electors with an eye toward persuading them to bolt to Gore, has already stated publicly that if Gore tries to call it off, he’ll ignore Gore. Indeed, obeying Gore would only establish that he is in cahoots with the official campaign. Knowing this, Gore risks little by taking the high road.

4) Gore’s refusal to accept electors pledged to Bush is mostly rhetorical. Candidates don’t rule on the legitimacy of electors; state legislatures and Congress do. But Gore’s words would acquire real meaning under the following not-inconceivable scenario: Maria Cantwell wins the Senate seat in Washington, dividing Senate control evenly between Democrats and Republicans; the Republican House votes to unseat a faithless elector needed by Gore to win the presidency; the Senate votes along party lines, requiring Gore, as president of the Senate, to cast the tie-breaking vote; Gore consults his conscience about whether his refusal to accept an elector’s faithless vote exerts controlling moral authority.

5) But it’s also possible that Gore experiences sincere moral outrage at the thought of anybody encouraging an elector to violate his pledge to support his party’s candidate.