In December, Joe Oliver of Leavenworth may become for a day one of the most powerful people in America.
That's when he might join the electoral college that selects the next president.
Whether the Democratic elector gets to cast his vote for Al Gore may depend on how well he and others mobilize voters in Leavenworth County and across the state.
Kansas traditionally hands its electoral college votes to the Republican presidential candidate.
Oliver, the Leavenworth County Democratic party chair, said he was confident he would get to cast his electoral college vote for Gore.
"I think what will be important right now will be to see how Al Gore handles himself when he debates George Bush," Oliver said. "I know he's been called plastic-man, but if he can make that impression, he can win this county."
A retired computer programming analyst at Fort Leavenworth, Oliver has been involved in county politics for about six years.
"The former chair, who was a teacher of mine and a friend, asked me to get involved. I worked for Joe Collins' campaign against Sam Brownback," Oliver said.
His service to the party got him elected June 17 to be one of six Democratic electors. The state Republican party selected its six electors in May, as well as delegates to the national convention.
Each state is allotted electors equal to the number of its U.S. senators, plus the number of its U.S. representatives. Then, the electors of whichever party carries the state by popular vote cast ballots in the electoral college.
Kansas University professor Burdett Loomis said the electoral college was designed by the framers of the Constitution to dilute the influence of direct election results.
"The reason that was done was because the framers didn't trust the people," Loomis said. "Going back to the Constitution where you didn't have instantaneous communication, they were constructing this without having had an election. They conceived of this as electors working independently."
In practice, what has happened is that state parties choose electors on the basis of party loyalty. When the electors meet in early December to choose the next president, they will probably all cast ballots for their party's candidate.
Loomis said the largely ceremonial electoral college could become important if a major third-party candidate split the votes in important states.
"If you go into a really close election, and a third party ends up taking a few states, splitting electors, those remaining electors may cut a deal with one of the major parties," he said.
Oliver said many of his neighbors don't quite understand the shadowy process of the electoral college. Many think he will be attending the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.
He will not be going, but instead will be host to an event for party members to watch the convention on television.
The son and grandson of Buffalo Soldiers, Oliver was born at Fort Leavenworth and has lived in the city for the past 40 years, he said.
He worked four years in Thailand during the Vietnam War, but it was not until he retired that he was able to get involved with party politics.
Now, one of his two daughters is pursuing a graduate degree in political science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
As co-chair of Gore's Leavenworth County campaign, he is working to mobilize minority voters there.
"I'm working with minority ministers in Leavenworth County," Oliver said. "There are over 8,000 African-Americans in Leavenworth County. We make up at least 10 percent of the county. That could make a big difference, especially if we vote in a block."
Also a member of the Kansas Black Democratic Caucus, he wants minorities in his county to understand the importance of their vote and the ease of voting early.
"I'm stressing to people that the next president will be appointing at least two U.S. Supreme Court justices, it's estimated," Oliver said. "If I can get 6,000 people to vote as a block, I can get all our county candidates into office here."