Five things to watch as the Electoral College votes
The Electoral College vote on Monday will mark one of the final milestones in a fraught election year that raised concerns about the underpinnings of American democracy.
All 538 electors will convene in state legislatures across the country Monday to formally cast their ballots for president. The meeting will further solidify President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory and deal yet another blow to Trump’s legal challenges surrounding the election.
However, Trump has drawn attention to the process in recent weeks through inviting a number of GOP state leaders to the White House with the hope of convincing them to seat their own electors. The president’s efforts appear to have fallen flat, with no legislatures moving to replace their electors.
Here are five things we’re watching ahead of next week’s vote.
Will there be faithless electors?
When the Electoral College met in 2016, 306 of them were pledged to vote for Trump and another 232 were bound to Hillary Clinton.
By the end of the process, Trump ended up with 304 electoral votes and Clinton finished with 227. Seven electors — from Hawaii, Texas and Washington state — went rogue and voted for someone other than the candidate they were pledged to support.
It appears unlikely that a similar situation will play out this year.
For one, the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that states can punish or remove electors who change their votes. Some 32 states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring electors to vote for the candidate for which they are pledged, though in states without such laws, there is nothing stopping electors from changing their votes.
Beyond that ruling, both the Biden and Trump campaigns have worked to install party stalwarts as electors who are less likely to break rank. Van Johnson, the mayor of Savannah and one of Georgia’s 16 Democratic electors, said that he doesn’t expect any defections from his state’s delegation Monday.
“I think that when you look at the individuals that are representing Georgia, I think you see a cadre of Democrats who have distinguished themselves throughout the state,” he said in an interview Friday. “They understand how hard we’ve worked to get to this point and they understand the gravity of the moment.”
But Julian Zelizer, a professor of political history at Princeton University, said there’s always a possibility that some electors will break their pledge, even if it remains unlikely.
“We might have a few,” he said. “Given the kind of claims the president has thrown out there and the blind loyalty of the party, this can happen. But as we have seen, most of the political world has not responded to the president by following his lead.”
What will Trump do as the results roll in Monday?
While Monday’s vote will likely narrow the already uphill chances of Trump and his legal team overturning the election results, they are likely to continue to push ahead with their claims of widespread voter fraud.
Trump has been busy on Twitter this week touting voter fraud claims, suggesting he will continue his pattern of tweeting into Monday.
Additionally, Trump will likely get a morale boost when an estimated thousands of his supporters descend on Washington over the weekend in support of his challenges to the election.
Trump said late last month that he would leave office if Biden is elected by the Electoral College.
“Certainly I will, and you know that,” Trump said when asked by reporters at the White House. “I will and you know that.”
“It’s going to be a very hard thing to concede because we know there was massive fraud,” he added.
But Trump campaign senior adviser Jenna Ellis brushed aside the Dec. 14 vote in an interview earlier this week, saying that Jan. 6, when Congress counts the votes of the states’ delegates, was the date of “ultimate significance.”
Will this process get more attention than normal?
Trump’s unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud and challenges to the election results have drawn more attention than usual to the upcoming vote, which normally is seen as a formality.
“It’s kind of an off-the-radar thing,” said Ronald Martin, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council and one of the state’s 10 electors. “Everyone knows it happens, but it normally just happens. I wasn’t totally expecting it to go as far as it’s gone.”
Experts say the last time the Electoral College has received this much attention was during the tumultuous 2000 election, which also had its fair share of legal challenges.
“The difference is there was a serious problem [in 2000],” Zelizer said. “In this case, there was not. The president and the GOP are manufacturing this.”
Thousands of Trump’s supporters are set to protest in Washington over the weekend, further vocalizing the unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud ahead of the vote.
A number of state officials, particularly in Georgia, have faced backlash and harassment from some claiming voter fraud took place. However, in an interview with The Hill, roughly a dozen electors said they had not experienced harassment this election cycle.
“I actually got more calls when I was a delegate for Hillary and Bernie’s people wanted me to switch,” said Rick Bloomingdale, a Pennsylvania elector, referring to his experience in 2016.
However, other electors, especially the well-known ones, have still expressed concerns.
“I’m anxious because there are people out there who are crazy,” Johnson, the Georgia elector, said. “The safety of everyone has to be considered and kept in the forefront of our minds as we take on this process.”
Will the meetings look any different with the pandemic still raging?
Monday’s vote could drastically differ from previous years as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Normally electors across the country gather in state legislature chambers to cast their vote — but states’ coronavirus restrictions could change that.
In New York, electors will gather in person at the state Capitol in Albany due to an election law requiring them to attend in person.
Electors will also meet in person in Georgia, but safety precautions have been put in place. Johnson said he was comfortable with the current setup for Monday’s vote.
“I’m familiar with some of the things that they’re doing to keep us safe. I’m quite satisfied with what they’re doing to keep us safe,” Johnson told The Hill. “It’s about masking, it’s about social distance, it’s about washing your hands. We have found out that we can achieve a lot of things if we observe those precepts.”
Will the final vote end the post-election drama?
The Electoral College vote on Monday will cement Biden’s standing as the president-elect, but Trump and his allies don’t appear close to admitting defeat.
The Trump campaign has already suggested that it plans to continue its push to overturn the election results in the weeks ahead. On Tuesday, lawyers for the president dismissed the significance of the safe harbor deadline, the statutory deadline for states to certify their vote tallies and resolve any election-related disputes, arguing that “it is not unprecedented for election contests to last well beyond Dec. 8.”
“The only fixed day in the U.S. Constitution is the inauguration of the President on January 20 at noon,” lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Ellis said in a statement
At the same time, Texas filed a lawsuit this week against four states — Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — asking the Supreme Court to prevent the states from casting their electoral votes for Biden. Since then, 17 other states have signed on to the challenge.
Legal experts say that the odds are stacked against the lawsuit, which is rife with flaws. But the legal challenge itself, coming after federal and state courts have broadly rejected Trump’s efforts to contest the election results, demonstrates Republicans’ drive to upend the electoral process even as the nation moves toward formalizing Biden’s win.
Ben Wikler, an elector from Wisconsin and the chair of the state Democratic Party, said that he expects tensions to ease at least somewhat after the Electoral College vote on Monday. But he also expressed alarm over how ardently Trump and his allies have challenged the results.
“Things came so close this time,” Wikler said. “That’s the lesson for all of us is to never take our democracy for granted again.”
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