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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

Rapt Fla. Electors Await Chance to Settle Election

November 23, 2000|SCOTT GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Maria De La Milera remembers every detail of her escape from Cuba as a child on July 13, 1962. From the green dress she wore to the hope she held in her heart: to be able to express herself freely.

But now, as one of 25 appointed Republican state electors, she wonders if she'll get to cast her vote in the nation's electoral college and help send George W. Bush to the White House.

The state's 25 Democratic electors, pledged to Vice President Al Gore, are in the same strange limbo as the endless presidential campaign moves into fresh, uncharted territory.

"There is no solution," worried De La Milera, a Bush supporter and Miami-Dade County administrator.

Even the state Supreme Court decision Tuesday night--which threw Gore a lifeline by extending the deadline for manual recounts now underway in South Florida--didn't settle much from the electors' perspective.

Instead, many believe, it only raised the prospect of Florida's GOP-dominated Legislature trying to decide on its own which electors should cast their votes. Under federal law, the Legislature could wade into the election by holding a special session to select Florida's electors. Republicans, who were incensed by the Supreme Court's ruling and felt it usurped their power, control both houses of the Legislature--as well as the governor's mansion, which is occupied by Bush's younger brother Jeb.

The Legislature would almost certainly choose the Republican slate of electors, but it would risk incurring the public's wrath for allowing politicians to decide the election.

"I can't imagine they would do that," said Lance Block, a Democratic elector and a West Palm Beach attorney. "That would be a gross and flagrant power play. I would be shocked."

Still, Block concedes, it's a possibility--one that has only made this race more wrenching for him and his colleagues.

"I watch TV all day and all night long. That's the truth," said Diane Glasser, a representative of both the state and national Democratic parties and who cast a vote in the electoral college for President Clinton in 1996.

"I'm a political junkie anyway. But this is tense. And I'm completely absorbed by it."

The job of the electors, while one of the final steps before inauguration, is obscure at best--a relic of the past at worst. Glasser doesn't even bother telling anyone she meets that she is a "graduate" of the electoral college. Even she isn't particularly interested in who casts the rest of Florida's votes.

"You want to know the truth? I don't even know who the others are," she said. "Honestly, I have no idea."

The others include some big names, including several members of Florida's Legislature and state Atty. Gen. Bob Butterworth, a key Gore backer.

Glenda Hood, elected this month to her third four-year term as Orlando's mayor, is a Republican elector. If she gets to cast her vote for Bush on Dec. 18, she will do so on her 29th wedding anniversary, so her husband is planning to join her in Tallahassee.

"We've never thought too much about the electoral college in the past," she said. "Now we have the opportunity to live history and live a civics lesson every day. I've learned a lot.

"We were pretty much anonymous people," Hood said. "That's changed. . . . Because this is history."

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