The Electoral College met in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, on Monday to cast ballots for president and vice president according to who won the majority of their states’ votes in November. In Harrisburg, 20 individuals from across Pennsylvania cast their votes Monday on behalf of the majority — the 3,458,229 voters in the commonwealth — who voted for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (who will be this nation’s first female vice president). Lancaster City Councilwoman Janet Diaz was among the 20 Democratic presidential electors who took part. Presidential electors are appointed by the winning presidential team.
It was necessarily different because of the pandemic — streamlined and socially distanced, held in the Forum Auditorium, adjacent to the state library.
But Monday’s Electoral College ceremony in Pennsylvania was nevertheless a dignified and historic affair in which the commonwealth’s 20 presidential electors — led for the first time by a woman — cast their ballots for Biden and Harris into a box designed by Benjamin Franklin.
It was, of course, Franklin who famously said that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 had created “a republic, if you can keep it.”
The verdict has been out on the republic’s chances of survival in recent weeks.
President Donald Trump and his allies have sought to undermine and even overturn the results of the Nov. 3 election with baseless and ludicrous claims that have been scathingly rejected even by Trump-appointed judges.
Nearly two-thirds of the Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives signed a legal brief supporting a Texas lawsuit seeking to invalidate the election results in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia. That lawsuit — which Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro rightly slammed as a “seditious abuse of the judicial process” — was rejected Friday by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Notably, and laudably, Lancaster County Congressman Lloyd Smucker did not sign that brief.
In the state Legislature, House Speaker Bryan Cutler, of Peach Bottom, was among the more than 60 Republicans who signed a letter asking Pennsylvania members of Congress to object to the commonwealth’s 20 electoral votes for Biden when they are presented to a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6. This happened despite the fact that there was no widespread electoral fraud in the Nov. 3 election — a fact repeatedly affirmed by federal and state judges, outgoing U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Trump’s own former election cybersecurity chief.
State Sen. Kim Ward, the new Republican majority leader of the Pennsylvania Senate, told The New York Times last week that the pressure from the Trump base was intense. “If I would say to you, ‘I don't want to do it,’ ” she said, about signing that letter, “I’d get my house bombed tonight.”
The reality is that Trump lost the election — by more than 7 million popular votes, and by 232 votes to Biden’s 306 votes in the Electoral College. This was acknowledged Tuesday by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who congratulated Biden and Harris, declaring, "The Electoral College has spoken."
The Electoral College vote generally goes unnoticed by most of us. This year, however, because of Trump’s refusal to accept the election results, the proceedings were closely watched.
Disturbingly, because of threats of violence to presidential electors, Michigan’s electors received police escorts. Arizona’s electors met in a location that wasn’t disclosed until just before their ceremony began.
Because of the pandemic, the Pennsylvania Department of State sought to discourage people from gathering outside the building where the commonwealth’s electors convened.
“We don’t want a superspreader event,” state Sen. Sharif Street, a presidential elector from Philadelphia, said. “It would be a bunch of people who have been misled by Trump and (Trump’s attorney Rudy) Giuliani that somehow the election has been stolen from them.”
On the one hand, the fact that this even had to be considered doesn’t augur well for the strength of our republic. On the other hand, we’re relieved that people of good faith — Republicans and Democrats — have withstood the pressure from those who wanted them to disregard our democratic principles.
Michigan Congressman Paul Mitchell announced Monday that he was leaving the Republican Party because he believes that party’s leaders have harmed democracy by tolerating “unfounded conspiracy theories and ‘stop the steal’ rallies without speaking out for our electoral process.” In a statement, Mitchell said it is “unacceptable” to “incite distrust of something so basic as the sanctity of our vote.”
Lee Chatfield, the Republican speaker of the Michigan House, also released a statement Monday to explain why he would not introduce a resolution to change the slate of electors casting ballots for Biden in that state.
“I was raised to respect our system of government and appreciate God for the blessings He’s given us in this country. Our republic has lasted because of a deeply held belief in our norms and institutions and adherence to our Constitution,” Chatfield said. “I fought hard for President Trump. ... But I love our republic, too. I can’t fathom risking our norms, traditions and institutions to pass a resolution retroactively changing the electors for Trump. ... I fear we’d lose our country forever.”
Thankfully, the country has not been lost. The Electoral College completed its constitutionally prescribed process Monday.
At the ceremony in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar quoted what President George H.W. Bush said after he lost his reelection bid in 1992: “The people have spoken and we respect the majesty of the democratic system.”
It was, as The Philadelphia Inquirer noted, “an implicit rebuke of Trump’s attacks on the system.”
Said Boockvar, to the electors: “Your participation today in this Electoral College proves once again the durability of our constitution and the majesty of our democracy.”
May we keep it forever.
In an address Monday evening, President-elect Biden said, “The flame of democracy was lit in this nation a long time ago, and we now know nothing — not even a pandemic or an abuse of power — can extinguish that flame.”
He noted that the U.S. passed a “grim milestone” Monday, according to Johns Hopkins’ data, with more than 300,000 Americans now dead because of COVID-19.
It’s time to “turn the page” from the election, he said.
This was updated Tuesday at 12:10 p.m. to include comment by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.