Tuesday's presidential election has been presented as a race between Republican incumbent George Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry.
But technically, it's a contest between folks like Patricia Pitney Smith of Overland Park and a select group of like-minded Republicans, and Irene Younkman of Newton and a select group of like-minded Democrats.
And, by the way, the election isn't Tuesday. It's Dec. 13.
Welcome to the Electoral College -- a quiet part of the United States system of government that was dragged from behind the scenes to dominate the 2000 presidential election and do the same this year.
"I think most people understand, as a result of the last election, that there is an Electoral College, but I'm not sure they fully understand how it works," said Mel Kahn, a Wichita State University history professor.
When voters cast ballots in the presidential contest, they actually are selecting a slate of electors who will elect the next president.
The electors will meet Dec. 13 in state capitals across the nation to cast their votes.
A candidate must get 270 electoral votes to become president, or the race is decided in the U.S. House. States have as many electoral votes as they have congressional representatives, so Kansas has six electoral votes for its four House members and two senators.
Whichever presidential ticket gets the most popular votes in a state wins the slate of electors that has earlier been picked by the respective political parties to vote for that candidate.
There are two variations in this system. In Maine and Nebraska, two electoral votes are determined by the statewide popular vote, and the remaining electoral votes are determined by the popular vote in each congressional district.
In the 2000 presidential election, Democrat Al Gore had a half million more popular votes than Bush, but Bush won the presidency with 271 electoral votes to Gore's 266. There was one abstention.
The Electoral College vote marked just the fourth time in U.S. history that the top popular vote-getter was denied the White House.
Few are faithless
This year, with the Bush-Kerry election deemed a toss-up, the Electoral College has moved to center stage again.
In fact, there have been reports of so-called "faithless electors" who may go against the popular vote of their state.
Richie Robb, the mayor of South Charleston, W.Va., a Republican, has publicly stated he may abstain or vote for Kerry out of protest of Bush's tax polices and war in Iraq. Such actions are rare. Kahn said there have been only eight faithless electors in the history of some 25,000 electoral votes cast.
And there are other wrinkles this year that could affect the Electoral College.
In Colorado, there is an initiative on the ballot that, if passed, would mean the state allocates its nine electoral votes in proportion to the popular vote each candidate receives.
In 35 states, including Kansas, there is no law that requires electors to follow the popular vote. In some states, the names of the electors appear on the ballot, but not in Kansas. On the Kansas ballot, the names of the presidential candidates appear below a heading that says, "For Presidential Electors" and then below that "For President and Vice President." The instructions say, "Vote for one set of electors."
True to their parties
|The 2004 presidential electors from Kansas:Kerry-EdwardsKaren Carlin, LenexaStan Fowler, EmporiaShirley Jacques, SalinaJim Parrish, TopekaR.J. Wilson, PittsburgIrene Younkman, NewtonBush-CheneyRuth Garvey Fink, TopekaBernard "Bud" Hentzen, WichitaDennis Jones, LakinWanda Konold, PrattJack Ranson, WichitaPatricia Pitney Smith, Overland Park|
Kansas electors contacted by the Journal-World said they would pick their parties' candidate.
If Bush wins the popular vote in Kansas, as is expected, Republican electors say they will be proud to vote for him.
"Personally, I have no problem with George W. Bush," said Smith, the elector from Overland Park. "I'm a Republican, secretary of the state Republican Party. Now where do you think I would go?"
Other Republican electors are Ruth Garvey Fink of Topeka, Bernard "Bud" Hentzen of Wichita, Dennis Jones of Lakin, Wanda Konold of Pratt and Jack Ranson of Wichita.
Ranson, a longtime Republican Party activist, said if an elector went against who they were pledged to, "you would be stoned and pilloried."
Electors in Kansas were selected by the their state party committees. Smith said she is taking her duties seriously.
"It could be important. Having been chosen, I have felt extremely honored to represent all of the Republicans, and in essence, my vote for Bush and others might certainly be the big deciding factor. As the kids would say, 'That's awesome.' "
Younkman, one of the Democratic electors, said she was ready to cast her vote for Kerry.
Even though Bush is expected to win Kansas handily, Younkman said, "Anything can happen in an election."
Kahn said polls show most Americans don't support the Electoral College process because they say it dilutes their voting power.
But Kahn supports it. A presidential election based on popular vote would result in numerous recounts, he said.
Most people argue that the Electoral College runs contrary to the notion that each person's vote should be equal. But Kahn said "one-man, one-vote" is a myth.
There are numerous steps in the political process where a minority group of votes can thwart the will of the majority, he said.