Charles Dharapak, File, Associated Press
At least three Republican electors say they may not support their party's presidential ticket when the Electoral College meets in December to formally elect the next president, escalating tensions within the GOP and adding a fresh layer of intrigue to the final weeks of the White House race.
The electors — all supporters of former GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul — told The Associated Press they are exploring options should Mitt Romney win their states. They expressed frustration at how Republican leaders have worked to suppress Paul's conservative movement and his legion of loyal supporters.
"They've never given Ron Paul a fair shot, and I'm disgusted with that. I'd like to show them how disgusted I am," said Melinda Wadsley, an Iowa mother of three who was selected as a Republican elector earlier this year. She said Paul is the better choice and noted that the Electoral College was founded with the idea that electors wouldn't just mimic the popular vote.
The defection of multiple electors would be unprecedented in the last 116 years of U.S. politics. It also would raise the remote possibility that the country could even end up with a president and vice president from different parties.
If Romney prevailed in an extremely close presidential election, for example, defections could deprive him of the Electoral College majority needed to secure the presidency. That would throw the presidential election to the U.S. House for the first time in nearly two centuries. The Senate would elect the vice president if neither running mate got a majority of the electoral votes. If Republicans retained control of the House, and with the each state delegation getting a single vote, Romney probably would prevail. But if the Senate remained in Democratic hands, Vice President Joe Biden would be the favorite.
Because so-called faithless electors are rare, the position of elector is largely viewed as symbolic. Each party chooses people to serve as electors in the 50 states, and electors from the winning party convene in each state capital in December to officially select the president and vice president.
As Paul supporters fought for more prestigious delegate slots during state-level conventions this year, they also quietly accrued electors — some in Democratic states likely to be won by President Barack Obama, but also in a handful in states that Romney could take.
In Nevada, for example, Paul's forces seized control of the state convention and won a majority of delegates. They also placed four Paul supporters among the state's six electors.
The electors said they have had no organized discussion over how to cast their electoral votes and there have been no efforts by the campaigns to get them to vote for either Paul or Romney.
Nevada's electors are approaching their duties in different ways.
Jesse Law, an elector and Paul supporter, said he may have qualms with Romney but has always intended to cast his electoral vote for the party nominee.
"I just want to beat Obama," Law said.
But Ken Eastman may not cast his Nevada electoral vote for Romney, if the former Massachusetts governor wins the state. Eastman said he wants to explore options with Republican leaders in Clark County, a group now dominated by Paul supporters.
"I'm undecided at this point," Eastman said, adding that he's "pretty disgusted" with the national Republican Party and how it has worked to suppress Paul's grassroots movement. He said the GOP has not been open to an influx of people with different ideas.
In Texas, elector Billie Zimmerman said she sees Paul as the only candidate able to save the country. She considers Romney and running mate Paul Ryan to be just another couple of Republicans who will disappoint her, and she called the GOP convention a "shocking display of deception and treachery and cheating."
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