Monday, December 14th, has long been marked on the political calendar as the moment when the Electoral College—that antiquated, rickety, and in some ways unrepresentative vestige of the country’s founding—would gather to confirm the results of the 2020 election. Like many other days since November 3rd, it began with Donald Trump ranting on Twitter about a “Rigged Election” and some of his supporters intimating at possible violence. In Michigan, state officials announced that legislative buildings and the capitol wouldn’t open, owing to what they termed a “credible threat.” A Republican state congressman, Barry Eisen, said he couldn’t rule out violence at a Trump protest that he was planning to attend. From other parts of the country, there were reports of electors receiving threats, some of which the authorities took seriously. In Arizona, authorities declined to divulge the location where its electors would be meeting.
This was all alarming. But, once the actual voting started, the proceedings were reassuringly mundane and free of incident. In the ten-o’clock hour, the electors in Indiana and Tennessee—two red states, each of which has eleven electoral votes—got things going in a way that would be mimicked, later in the day, all across the country. After answering a roll call, the electors voted by paper ballot—one for President and another for Vice-President. Once their votes were tallied, the electors signed six certificates recording their actions. One of these certificates was destined to be mailed—yes, snail-mailed—to the president of the U.S. Senate, Vice-President Mike Pence. (The other five copies would be sent to various local officials.)
Archaic as this procedure is, it represented American democracy in action. After all of Trump’s assaults and provocations over the past month, that alone was something to celebrate. And, with the result not in any doubt, there was an unexpected pleasure in watching the vote tallies mount. At noon, Trump was still leading Joe Biden, fifty-six votes to thirty-six. Then came another wave of states, including three critical ones that flipped to Biden: Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, which together accounted for forty-seven votes in the Electoral College.
At the Georgia statehouse, in Atlanta, Stacey Abrams, the Democratic politician whose voter-registration drives contributed to Biden’s narrow victory in that state, conducted the roll call. “We stand not for ourselves and not for our party but for the people of Georgia,” Abrams said, beaming. After the electors had cast their votes and the tellers had confirmed them, Abrams returned to the dais and declared, “We have now cast sixteen Electoral College votes on behalf of the state of Georgia for Joseph R. Biden as President of the United States, and sixteen Electoral College votes on behalf of the state of Georgia for Kamala D. Harris as Vice-President of the United States.” It was the first time since 1992 that Georgia had gone Democrat.
Seven hundred miles north, in Harrisburg, similar scenes were playing out. Pennsylvania is another state where Trump and his legal team have conducted a blistering campaign against the voters’ will, of course. And, indeed, as the Electoral College electors were gathering at the capitol, a group of local Republicans held a rival meeting at which they staged their own vote—for Trump. “We took this procedural vote to preserve any legal claims that may be presented going forward,” Bernie Comfort, the chair of Trump’s campaign in Pennsylvania, said in a statement. But there was nothing that Trump or any of his supporters could do to stop the official ceremony. After the twenty Democratic electors had cast their votes for Biden and Harris, Kathy Boockvar, the Pennsylvania secretary of state, thanked them and all the state’s election officials for the work they had done. Loosely quoting former President George H. W. Bush, Boockvar said they had “effectuated the majesty of our democracy.”
The votes kept coming in. Opening the proceedings at the state capitol in Lansing, Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer noted that the election result in the Wolverine State had been clear and decisive. (Biden won by more than a hundred and fifty thousand votes.) “After today, the result will be final,” Whitmer said, through her face mask. “It is time to move forward together as one United States of America.” If FedEx and UPS could work together to agree on distributing a vaccine for the coronavirus, Whitmer added, it shouldn’t be beyond Democrats and Republicans to work together, too.
These were hopeful words, but Whitmer, more than almost anybody, knows just how poisonous American politics has become. Since the start of the pandemic, her response to it has made her the target of right-wing extremists. Speaking to reporters, she criticized the remarks made by Eisen. “Anyone who is inciting people to take action is contributing to a hostile environment that can lead to domestic terrorism, and I take it very seriously,” she said. In October, the F.B.I. arrested thirteen suspects tied to militia groups who they said were plotting to kidnap Whitmer.
Mercifully, the large-scale protests that had been threatened in Michigan, an open-carry state, didn’t materialize. Before the vote was taken, some Trump supporters did gather on the capitol lawn, but MLive.com estimated their numbers at “roughly a dozen.” In Harrisburg, too, Trump supporters were surprisingly thin on the ground: “The dozen or so appeared to be part of a group that has met at the Capitol most days at noon since the Election,” PennLive.com reported.
It would be good to believe these small turnouts indicate that support for Trump’s false crusade is faltering. Reaching such a conclusion may be premature, however. As long as Trump is out there egging them on, many of his supporters will refuse to accept Biden’s victory and many Republican politicians will kowtow. But on Monday, at least, the focus shifted away from the mendacious President, his rages, and the shiftless Republicans, and onto the majority of Americans who voted to rid the country of the Trump scourge.
Shortly before six o’clock Eastern Time, in Sacramento, California, fifty-five Democratic members of the Electoral College cast their votes for Biden, raising him above the threshold of two hundred and seventy. The 2020 election result was now official, pending only the formality of a ratification by the U.S. Congress, on January 6th. Trump will try to make that final step more than a formality, of course. In the coming days, he will surely call on Republicans in the House and the Senate to query the contents of the envelopes that the United States Postal Service delivers to Pence. But, after last week’s Supreme Court ruling and the events of Monday, it seems virtually certain that Trump’s seditious efforts will fail, and he will be forced to leave office on January 20th. American democracy has cracked under his assault, but it hasn’t collapsed. For that, at least, we can all be grateful.
Read More About the Presidential Transition
- Donald Trump has survived impeachment, twenty-six sexual-misconduct accusations, and thousands of lawsuits. His luck may well end now that Joe Biden is the next President.
- With litigation unlikely to change the outcome of the election, Republicans are looking to strategies that might remain even after rebuffs both at the polls and in court.
- With the Trump Presidency ending, we need to talk about how to prevent the moral injuries of the past four years from happening again.
- If 2020 has demonstrated anything, it is the need to rebalance the economy to benefit the working class. There are many ways a Biden Administration can start.
- Trump is being forced to give up his attempt to overturn the election. But his efforts to build an alternative reality around himself will continue.
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