April 28, 2000
By Jerome DeHerrea
The way the United States elects a President is fascinating. No other country in the world has had so free and open election as the United States. That makes the United States different than other countries. But in an open election, unknown factors can play pivotal roles.
Take for instance the effect that the dispute over the Cuban youngster, Elian Gonzalez, might have on the election. Aside from the merits of the argument for or against the boy staying or leaving, the case promises to have an impact on the 25 electoral votes that the state of Florida casts in the general election in November.
Under the electoral college system the United States uses, each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia get a certain number of electors based on the size of a state's population. There are a total of 538 electoral votes as established by the Constitution, and it takes 270 electoral votes to win an election. How a state's electoral votes are cast depends on which of the candidates wins the most votes in a state.
Florida's electoral votes are critical to both Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George Bush, and so the battle over Elian is a case in point on how the citizens of this country go about electing a president.
The Elian case also is obvious testimony of the importance of the Latino vote in the elections. Who would have thought a year ago that the fight over Elian would have ramifications on the election of a President of the United States?
But here we are at a point when the Cuban community of Florida is agitated passionately over the Elian case. That can prove decisive in November, even though there are as many Puerto Ricans and Mexican-Americans and other Latinos as there are Cubans in Florida.
And here is where the game gets fascinating. Recent polls show that Vice President Gore and Gov. Bush are locked in a tight race in Florida. Those 25 electoral votes are critical to both men.
For a while Bush thought Florida, where his brother is governor, was a safe state for him to win. But Gore has been aggressively courting mainstream voters and the non-Cuban Latino vote, and all of a sudden he thinks that he might be able to win Florida.
So what does he do? He breaks with his own Administration and sides with the majority of Cubans who want Elian to stay, thereby trying to break into the Cuban stronghold vote for Bush.
Gore may be criticized for playing politics, even though he might really think Elian should stay. But what matters most of all right now are those 25 electoral votes of Florida's.
DeHerrera writes a political column from Washington. Please send your comments to JeromeDeHerrera@yahoo.com.