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Facing a wave of calls, Pa. electors sounding unshakable

HARRISBURG - Thousands of emails land in their inboxes every day. Copies of the Federalist Papers and other books urging political courage are being mailed to their homes. They are even getting phone calls in the middle of the night.

Pennsylvania elector Ash Khare.
Pennsylvania elector Ash Khare.Read more

HARRISBURG - Thousands of emails land in their inboxes every day. Copies of the Federalist Papers and other books urging political courage are being mailed to their homes. They are even getting phone calls in the middle of the night.

Such has been the life of Pennsylvania's 20 electors for President-elect Donald Trump since the Nov. 8 election.

On Monday, they will travel to the state Capitol to cast their votes to assign Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes to Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence during what has, in the past, been a ceremonial and largely unnoticed event.

Not this year.

This time around, the electors will be greeted by organized protests, urging them to assign Pennsylvania's electoral votes to anyone but Trump.

One elector, Ash Khare, said he and all of the 19 others have been assigned a plainclothes state police trooper for protection.

"I'm a big boy," said Khare, an India-born engineer and a longtime Republican from Warren County, who estimates he receives 3,000 to 5,000 emails, letters, and phone calls a day from as far away as France, Germany, and Australia. "But this is stupid. Nobody is standing up and telling these people, 'Enough, knock it off.' "

Pennsylvania is not among those states that require its electors to vote for the candidate who won the state. This year, that was Trump, who became the first Republican presidential candidate to win Pennsylvania in nearly three decades.

Nonetheless, electors are usually party stalwarts - people handpicked by the presidential nominee and their state parties and expected to remain loyal.

No effect

Although they have occurred, defections are rare.

"I take my job as an elector very seriously, and in Pennsylvania, Donald Trump won," said Mary Barket, a Northampton County resident and president of the Pennsylvania Federation of Republican Women. "So any argument thereafter, especially about the nature of him being a president, is not going to have an effect on me."

Barket said she has been inundated with phone calls and emails and letters over the last month. Some tell her to read the Federalist Papers or express fear over Trump becoming the country's commander-in-chief.

But she said she generally doesn't open the messages.

"I don't have the time, first of all," she said. "Second of all, there's really not much to be said that's going to do anything to change my mind."

The vote Monday is expected to be a formal affair.

The electors are scheduled to convene at noon in the chamber of the House of Representatives for a meeting that is expected to last about 90 minutes and include a roll call of electors, speeches, and their ballots being cast for president and vice president.

Four years ago, the state's top election official told those present that the proceeding was consistent with the procedures followed when the first Electoral College met in Pennsylvania 223 years earlier, according to the journal of the event.

This year, demonstrators will be waiting outside.

Beth Pulcinella, an organizer of a 24-hour vigil and protest outside the Capitol that will start Sunday, said in an interview last week that participants will be asking electors to reject Trump and telling fellow citizens that they do not have to simply accept outcomes that are not in their interests.

"This is a moment where there's this decision that can be made and we could really change history in the specific way that we really feel like would benefit everybody profoundly," said Pulcinella, an art teacher living in Philadelphia.

She pointed to examples of high-level GOP critics of Trump as reason to hope that even the devoted Republicans who are Pennsylvania's electors might reconsider.

"In this moment, maybe it's not about party," she said.

A 1 a.m. call

In interviews last week, a number of electors said there was no chance anyone will defect.

"There is zero chance of that," said elector Lawrence Tabas, a Philadelphia lawyer and general counsel for the state GOP. "If you want to place a bet on that in Vegas, you can make enough money to retire."

Tabas said state officials this year gave out contact information for all 20 electors. In his case, that included his work and cell phones, his work email, and his home address.

He can't read every email or letter - and many of them have just been form letters with different signatories.

He said most of the conversations he's had have been respectful. Others have veered off into what he would only call "nasty" territory. He would not give details.

Khare said he received a letter from a 7-year-old describing his fear of Trump. Others have sent him photos of their families, saying they were worried about their future under a Trump presidency.

One woman called to tell him her husband had left the country. Another called him at 1 a.m., while he was in a deep sleep.

He was also sent a copy of John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage, which focuses on the careers of eight senators whom Kennedy felt had shown courage under "enormous pressure" from their parties and constituents.

Khare said he understood that the country is deeply divided and that emotions are running high, but said he was clear on where he stands.

"I will not change my mind," he said.

Richard Stewart, a Cumberland County resident and the state Republican Party's assistant treasurer, said he has received probably more than 60,000 emails and hundreds of letters about his role as an elector.

He described the people contacting him and other electors as "sincere but ill-informed and uneducated with respect to the process."

He has not engaged.

"If Hillary Clinton had won, I certainly wouldn't be calling up her electors saying change your mind," he said. "I know how the system works. They lost. They ought to get over that."