The presidential election scrum is making minor celebrities out of Electoral College members who usually cast their ballots in obscurity.

Major news organizations are seeking out Utah's Republican electors to find out whether the Al Gore campaign has contacted them or if they have a notion to change their votes. George W. Bush easily carried Utah in the Nov. 7 election.

"Everybody's wondering who these so-called electors are," said North Salt Lake resident Ron Fox, an elector and Utah Bush campaign director.

The Wall Street Journal and CNN interviewed him this week. And no, Fox said, Gore's people have not talked to him and no, he's not changing his vote.

In addition to Fox, the GOP electors are Gov. Mike Leavitt, Lt. Gov. Olene Walker, Provo Mayor Lewis Billings and Arlene Ellis, a Utah National Committee member.

Utah's electors have little choice but to select the candidate who won the state's popular vote. To do otherwise results in a void ballot, automatic resignation and immediate replacement under state law.

Utah has five electoral votes, which equals the number of its congressional delegation. Political parties choose their electors in different ways. The Republican Party elects them during its state convention — one from each of the state's three congressional districts and two at large. The Democrats appoint party leaders as electors.

Local Democrats haven't participated in the Electoral College since 1964 when Lyndon B. Johnson carried Utah.

Walker received several e-mails from people wanting Utah's list of electors, a request she said she has never received before. None were from the Bush or Gore campaigns, she said, adding she can't imagine an elector switching his or her vote.

"They might have considered I'm committed," she said.

Walker, who oversees state elections, is thankful she lives in Utah where returns come in with few glitches. "I say a silent prayer every hour that I'm not over the election in Florida," she said.

"I don't think any elector imagined it would be like this," Ellis said of the presidential deadlock. "In the past, I don't think anyone has known or cared" who the electors are.

The Salt Lake homemaker, too, has heard from national news media but has had no one attempt to sway her vote, though in past years she has received calls and letters to that effect. Ellis, who was an elector in 1992 and 1996, said she wonders if she'll receive a "barrage" of calls in the next few weeks.

Utah electors will meet at noon on Dec. 18 to cast their votes. The meeting is usually held at the State Capitol. But this isn't a usual year. Walker said she wants to convene in a public school "so students can have a greater sense of history."

There will be no climactic moment when local electors meet. They will mark paper ballots for Bush and Dick Cheney and sign them.

The State Election Office will certify the ballots and send them to Washington, D.C., via registered mail, said Amy Naccarato, state election officer.

As U.S. Senate president, Al Gore will count the votes in Congress in January. He'll either declare himself the winner or the loser.

Billings will be part of the Electoral College for the first time. "I waited until there was going to be an exciting year to sign up," he says.

Active in the Bush campaign, Billings said he has been going around Provo taking down Bush campaign signs only to have people tell him "until this is over, we want ours up."

Billings called the electoral vote "greatly symbolic" but something the Constitution requires and a process he believes should stay intact. What must change, he said, is how votes are tabulated.

"We need vote reform so every time you count the ballots, you don't have a different result," he said.

The fate of the Electoral College will be hotly debated before the nation elects its next president in 2004. A Deseret News poll earlier this month showed 52 percent of Utahns favor abolishing it. Utah's electors support the current system, saying it gives small states a voice.

But they also know that in addition to making history, the Electoral College might become history.

"It's not often you get this honor," Fox said. "This may be the last time anyone gets this honor."


E-mail: romboy@desnews.com