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Election 2000: Despite Popular Vote, Election is up to Electoral College

Aired November 8, 2000 - 10:22 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: You have, of course, heard the words "too close to call" throughout the night and for much of the morning. The state of Florida is a perfect example. It was a tough state to get a handle on, making for a roller-coaster ride for the candidates and for our correspondents.

Here's a look at how the night unfolded.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: A big call to make, CNN announces that we call Florida in the Al Gore column. This is a state both campaigns desperately wanted to win.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Stand by -- stand by. CNN, right now, is moving our earlier declaration of Florida back to the "too close to call" column. Twenty-five very big electoral votes and the home state of the governor's brother, Jeb Bush, are hanging in the balance. This no longer is a victory for Vice President Gore.

George Bush, governor of Texas, will become the 43rd president of the United States at 18 minutes past 2:00 Eastern time. CNN declares that George Walker Bush has won Florida's 25 electoral votes.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The vice president has re- called the governor and retracted his concession.

BILL DALEY, GORE CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: But this race is simply too close to call, and until the results -- the recount is concluded and the results of Florida become official, our campaign continues.

WOODRUFF: Bill Daley, the chairman of the Gore campaign -- you just heard it. We're all -- I think we can hardly believe our ears. He said, until the results are official and certified in the state of Florida, we are going to continue our campaign.

SHAW: For every successive hour from this point on CNN will be your network to find out what is the latest on that presidential race in the United States.

WOODRUFF: That's right. So stay with CNN, because whatever is happening we are going to be bringing it to you. JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And folks, in the year 2004, please, could you make up your minds a little more conclusively because I think we can't take another election like this one.


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: That was the scene about 4 1/2 hours ago right in the newsroom behind us. Things were hopping here last night right along with the rest of the nation.

If nothing else, though, this election is a bit of a civics lesson in American politics. The Electoral College is now a household name, but what is it and how does it work? In basic terms, the Electoral College is made up of electors or representatives for a political candidate found in every state. Now, the number of electors in a state is directly tied to the state's congressional representation.

For example, California has 52 Congressional Districts, one elector comes from each district, meaning 52 electors. Add to that two U.S. senators in the state and the total in California is 54 electoral votes. In general, the candidate who wins the popular vote in California is awarded all electoral votes.

Now, the electors will cast votes, get this now, on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. We can't make this up, it's written down more than 200 years ago; that date dictated by the U.S. Constitution. This year that date again falls on the 18th of December, that is a Monday.

One catch here -- there is no Constitutional obligation for each elector to vote for the candidate who wins a particular state. However, it is rare when an elector does not follow suit with the candidate who wins in that state. However, again, last-minute changes have happened. Hope you got that; a quiz coming up later.

Now, with Al Gore ahead in the popular vote and the fate of the electoral vote hanging in the balance in Florida we are faced now with one of the most exciting elections in our country's history. For a bit more perspective on what's happening out there, James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University with us, now, live.

Sir, hello to you.


HEMMER: Did you ever think we'd see one of these?

THURBER: This is unique in American history. We've had very close ones, as we all know, the John F. Kennedy-Nixon race was less than 1/2 of 1 percent, but this is even closer.

HEMMER: What do you think Benjamin Harrison is thinking right now? THURBER: Well, Benjamin Harrison, as you know, had 47.8 percent of the popular vote and got 233 in the Electoral College and Grover Cleveland had a higher percentage but got 168. He's saying, hey, I've been there.

HEMMER: If it stays this way; if Gore wins the popular vote and George Bush pulls out a victory in the electoral vote in Florida, what does it say about the system? What does it question about the Electoral College in our country?

THURBER: Well, we have to go back to the founding fathers and some of them, not Thomas Payne, but some of them believed in a representative, Republican form of government -- they were elitist. They wanted to get together in a smoke-filled room, or snuff-filled room, in those days, and select who would be the next president of the United States.

That's exactly what happened in 1789 with George Washington. He was selected by people behind closed doors. These days we are not fearful of the masses or the unrestrained majority rule, as was stated in Philadelphia. We probably feel this is unfair and there will be efforts to reform it, but it will be tough to reform the Electoral College, as you well know.

HEMMER: And tell us about that, a Constitutional amendment required there. How tough, how difficult, how long if, indeed, it is pursued?

THURBER: Well, a Constitutional amendment takes the House and the Senate action plus 2/3 of the states within six years. And this is not one of those issues where you have a groundswell of population pushing for change as we did for many years to give women the vote. I don't think that we'll have major change, although there will be lots of debate, lots of discussion...

HEMMER: ... and lots of confusion, too, I think.

THURBER: And confusion.

HEMMER: All right; James Thurber, thanks a lot for your time.

HEMMER: We are not done with this topic, it doesn't appear. Stay with CNN, certainly, for the very latest. We'll keep you updated both on the air and on the lines -- certainly, if you're away from TV, our Web site,, everything's right there for you.

Now Daryn.

KAGAN: Well, there is one race that had a decisive victory. The Senate race -- Hillary Rodham Clinton is the freshman senator, now, from New York state, or she will be -- senator-elect.

We'll have more on that race just ahead on MORNING NEWS. Right now a quick break.

And we go live now to Debbie Stabenow, she pulled an upset and beat the challenger Spencer Abraham in the state of Michigan for that Senate seat. Let's go ahead and listen in.

DEBBIE STABENOW (D), MICHIGAN SENATOR-ELECT: And the very best campaign manager -- where is Carol Butler? I said when I hired her, the best campaign manager in the country and we proved it. And I'm just so proud of Carol and my long-time -- my friend and partner, and confidant and chief of staff and all-around very special friend, Teresa Plachetka.


STABENOW: This is the team that worked hard; there's a whole lot of other volunteers and people who believed in me enough to allow us to keep going in this race and really talked about the things that really matter to Michigan families. And I just want everybody to know that I'm going to work hard every day to earn the support that has been given to me, the trust has been given to me.

I take very seriously, the fact that the United States Senate is a place where choices have to be made, priorities. And there are important things that Michigan families care about that need to get done. It's not rhetoric when I've talking about lowering the prescription drug costs for seniors. I think it's shameful that our seniors pick between their meals and their medicine, and I'm going to work very, very hard to make sure that we can fix that and that our seniors get the kind of health care that they deserve.

So that's a top priority for me; putting our doctors and nurses back in charge of our medical decisions so if you have health care, you're getting the care that you need and that everybody has access to quality health care and making sure...


STABENOW: Yes -- and making sure that our children have what they need to be successful. We have the greatest economy in the world right now, an opportunity to get it right. To pay our bills, to keep our commitments to Social Security and Medicare and to make sure our children, every child, has what they need to be successful; and I'm committed to that. I'm committed to making sure that every one of our children walks into a safe, quality, public school. And that's important.


KAGAN: We've been listening to comments from Debbie Stabenow. She will be the Senate-elect -- she is the Senate-elect from the state of Michigan. That was a very close race, in fact, we just called it here at CNN just within the last hour. She beat the incumbent, the Republican Spencer Abraham and she now becomes one of a record number of women who will be serving in the U.S. Senate.

We will take a break and be back after this.



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