Their neighbors grill them on obscure questions of constitutional law and protocol. A handful of Republican electors say they have been besieged by telephone callers asking them to switch their allegiance to Gore when they meet in state capitols around the country Monday to cast their votes.
"I'm offended and insulted that someone would ask me to consider changing my vote," said Carol Jean Jordan, a Republican elector from Florida. "I wouldn't even consider it."
In her diehard party loyalty, Jordan is typical of the 257 Republican and Democratic electors reached by the Inquirer Washington Bureau and Capital News Service since the election: All said they would not switch their votes.
Save for the odd governor or two, and such local notables as Mayor Street, most electors are foot soldiers chosen by their parties for years of loyal service in the political trenches. If there is agreement on anything among this fiercely partisan group, it is that the Electoral College should not be tampered with.
"In some ways I see the confusion that it causes among people who are not involved with the political scene," Barbara Davidson, a Democratic elector from Medford, Ore., said of the public's mystification about the college's clout. "But I'm not at the point of saying, 'Let's throw it out.' It had merit and some wisdom when it was instituted."
Most electors echo the concerns voiced by the framers of the Constitution, saying the Electoral College system is the only way for the country to ensure that less-populous regions have a voice in the selection of the nation's chief executive.
"If in fact we got rid of it, a small state like Connecticut would not be as sought-after as it is now," said Frank Cirillo, a Democratic elector and party functionary from Meriden, Conn.
Some electors, such as Tennessee Gov. Winfield C. Dunn, said the notion that the college frustrates the principle of majority rule "is completely wrong," and he criticized "those dumb Americans who feel that way."
"I don't give a rat's rear end what America believes," added Jane Ham, a Nevada elector, who said Bush won her state, won the Electoral College, and would definitely get her vote.
Academics have expressed pleasure about the informal civics lesson the nation is getting, but Michael Glennon, a constitutional-law professor at the University of California at Davis, hopes the attention also will inspire efforts to make the Electoral College a more vital institution.
Glennon favors a revamped college in which electors would not be pledged to vote for a certain party's candidate but instead would function more as a search committee, much as they did in the nation's early years when free electors - accountable to no one - met to choose among highly regarded members of the political elite.
"The framers may just have had some sensible notions that should be revisited," said Glennon, noting that today "we select the most popular people - and maybe we need to place more emphasis on excellence."
While enactment of such a proposal is highly unlikely, there is little doubt that the once no-profile institution is on a lot of radar screens.
"Certainly the election has revived it in terms of people becoming interested and becoming knowledgeable about it," said James Thurber, an American University government professor. "People are talking about the Electoral College the way they talk about football."
For more than 200 years, electors have gathered in state capitols following each presidential election to cast their ballots for president. Each state and the District of Columbia has a number of electors equal to its representation in Congress. The popular vote in each state determines only which party's slate of electors will cast the state's Electoral College votes in December. Except in Maine and Nebraska, which have proportional systems, the candidate who wins a state's popular vote automatically wins all its electors.
During the country's early years, electors were selected by state legislatures, reflecting the framers' distrust of direct democracy in an unsettled land with few communications links and strong regional rivalries. Only gradually did the legislatures cede the task to the voters.
The system the framers established is set up so that in close national elections the winner of the popular vote can lose to the candidate with more electoral votes. This is so because of the winner-take-all system, and because sparsely populated states have proportionately more electors than the more populous states, a way of preventing a handful of population centers from ruling the country.
While it is possible that a candidate could win the popular vote and lose the election under the current system, Republican electors scoffed at the notion that the Electoral College frustrated the principle of majority rule.
On the contrary, many said it was needed now more than ever to make sure that small and rural states have a voice in the selection of the president.
"I think the Electoral College has served our nation well for more than two centuries," said Charles S. Trump IV, a West Virginia elector. "It endeavors to strike the balance between popular democracy and individual state sovereignty."
Alida Weergang, a Republican from Hudson, N.H., said that without the college, "you might as well leave it up to six or seven big states otherwise and say 'forget it.' "
That opinion was shared by Republican electors, even those in some of the larger states Bush captured.
"It at least makes the presidential candidates admit in their own minds that there are small, rural states," said John Judd of St. Louis.
Even many Democratic electors voiced support for the system, despite the fact that Gore's popular-vote victory was not sufficient to assure him the presidency.
"Even though [keeping it] might work against me and my candidate . . . the Electoral College is the only thing that preserves the impact of smaller states," said Etta Goldstein, a Democratic committeewoman and elector from Massachusetts.
Many constitutional scholars believe that electors, despite the force of almost two centuries of custom dictating they follow their pledges, are still free to vote for whomever they like. That prompted speculation shortly after Nov. 7 that the Gore camp would seek to sway electors from the other side.
Gore has disavowed such efforts, but that has not stopped some Democratic operatives from trying. Bob Beckel, a Democratic political consultant, said shortly after the election that he would seek to sway some Republican electors, and a pair of Claremont McKenna College students in California have set up a Web site encouraging citizens to contact Republican electors to persuade them to switch.
"Your state, unlike many others, does not legally require you to vote for your party's candidate," reads a sample letter, posted on the Web site, that the site's operators are urging voters to send to Republican electors. "To the best of my knowledge, you will face no penalties whatsoever if you decide to vote consistent with America."
A Bush win in Florida would give him 271 electoral votes to 267 for Gore, a thin margin by any measure.
Yet because of the electors' strong party backgrounds, chances of finding defectors are slim.
"If they kidnapped my children, I would not vote for Albert Gore for any office," said Albert Hurley, a Republican elector from North Carolina. "I am dead damn serious."
Alex R. Arshinkoff, an elector from Akron, Ohio, said he "would not vote for Gore if the Virgin Mary visited me for dinner and asked me to. No way."
Chris Mondics' e-mail address is cmondics