Electoral College casts votes across US

 

Tennessee was first to declare, shortly after 10 a.m. Eastern time. Eleven electoral college votes for Governor George W. Bush from the state of his rival. A while later in Little Rock, Arkansas there were another six for the governor and a wry promise from a local official: "There will be no recount."

Across the country, in all the state capitals, small groups of party activists, 538 in all, picked for their utter loyalty, came together in an unprecedented glare of TV cameras to cast their votes for the 43rd President of the United States. Gradually the tally lifted Mr Bush towards the tantalising 270 he needs to be elected and the 271 votes pledged to him. The final total will only be formally confirmed on January 6th when counted by Congress.

In Washington Mr Bush stepped up his preparations for assuming power on January 20th, meeting Congressional leaders from both parties. But his promises of bipartisanship and of healing divisions were put to the test immediately by the leaders of Democrats.

Senator Tom Daschle and Representative Dick Gephardt pledged the support of both houses in expediting the transition but urged Mr Bush to meet them half-way on policy issues. With the Senate evenly split and a Republican majority of only nine in the House, it seems likely Mr Bush will have to retreat on his $1.3 trillion in promised tax cuts.

By 12.15 am in Tallahassee, the 25 most controversial electors, those from the state of Florida, had performed their duty. "Thank you all," said Governor Jeb Bush, adding with some understatement that the state had produced "one of the most exciting elections I have ever been involved in". It was heartfelt - he had nearly lost his own state for his brother.

The meetings themselves varied from state to state: some in small offices, others in the grandeur of the legislative chambers. Alaska electors meet at an Anchorage library, while electors in the District of Columbia gather in city council chambers. Most meetings lasted an hour or less. The reform of the system is very definitely on the agenda now, with a poll in the Washing- ton Post strongly backing the idea that the federal government should set uniform rules and procedures. However, most also appear to want to turn a page on the current election, with over half expressing concern at the recount which is being organised by media organisations in Broward County, Florida.

Meanwhile others were also knocking on the White House door.

Ms Condoleezza Rice, named as Mr Bush's National Security Adviser, came to be briefed by her predecessor, Mr Sandy Berger, while Mrs Laura Bush also dropped in to talk First Lady business with Senator Hillary Clinton. Mr Gore spent the weekend in a secluded residence on the Caribbean island of St Thomas, relaxing in private before returning today to Washington to meet Mr Bush.