Joe Biden won Pennsylvania again.
Twenty electors from across the state met in Harrisburg on Monday to formally cast all 20 of Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes for President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, even as President Donald Trump persists in his baseless and brazen attempts to subvert the will of the voters.
“I hope you can see me smiling behind this mask,” said state Democratic chair Nancy Patton Mills, who was elected president of the college upon the reading of the votes.
Monday’s meeting marked the day when the official votes for president were cast by electors in states across the country. It’s normally a procedural footnote, ceremonial and largely unseen. But this year, Trump’s efforts to challenge Biden’s election at every level put the gathering in the spotlight.
“Maybe the only [Electoral College meeting] that got more attention was the first one,” state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, an elector from North Philadelphia, said in reference to George Washington’s election in 1789.
Each state has a certain number of electoral votes, equal to its number of lawmakers in Congress. Before Election Day, presidential campaigns and political parties select specific people to serve as their electors. Technically, when Americans across the country voted in the Nov. 3 election, their ballots were cast not for presidential candidates but for the electors chosen by those candidates.
Whichever candidate wins sends those electors to Harrisburg, and they cast the actual votes for the candidate.
“Today you will follow the tradition of the first Electoral College that convened in Pennsylvania 231 years ago and cast your votes based on the outcome of that election, to carry out the will of the voters of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, Pennsylvania’s top elections official, said in opening remarks at Monday’s meeting.
In an implicit rebuke of Trump’s attacks on the system, she quoted President George H.W. Bush following his loss in 1992: “The people have spoken and we respect the majesty of the democratic system.”
”Your participation today in this electoral college proves once again the durability of our constitution and the majesty of our democracy,” Boockvar said. “In this historic moment, our democracy rests here, with you, Pennsylvania’s electors, as you perform your prescribed constitutional duties.”
State Sen. Sharif Street (D., Phila.) noted history was being made with the election of Harris.
“In the eyes of so many young women there is great promise in America and in the hearts of so many older women there is a sense of fulfillment … and in the eyes of so many Black children and Asian children, this country has become just a little bit more fair,” Street said in remarks ahead of the vote.
After brief remarks, electors took turns walking to the stage to cast ballots in a box designed by Benjamin Franklin.
Since state law requires the votes be cast in person, and because of pandemic restrictions, the proceedings were a smaller, pared-down celebration for the 20 Democratic electors and a handful of others in the room.
“It’s a small group but it’s just so thrilling,” said Paige Cognetti, the mayor of Biden’s childhood hometown of Scranton. “It really is one of those honors of a lifetime you could never anticipate you’ll have, and to be here is so special, personally and as the mayor of Scranton.”
Before dawn, Cognetti drove to Harrisburg through steadily falling snow with another elector, longtime Democratic fund-raiser Virginia McGregor.
“Nothing was going to keep us from casting our ballot for Biden,” McGregor said. “Everyone knows what a historic day this is, especially matched with the fact that it’s the first day for the [coronavirus] vaccine, so change is coming. Good things are around the corner.”
Trump and his allies have sought to overturn the results in multiple forums, including in dozens of court challenges that they’ve repeatedly lost, and in attempts to block certification of the results or have state legislatures step in and assign electors against the will of the voters.
But states have completed more steps toward Biden’s inauguration and Trump has lost more lawsuits. That has left him with only long-shot possibilities, such as having members of Congress challenge the electoral votes when they meet Jan. 6 to receive and count them. Failure to overturn the results in Congress is a near certainty, since a majority of both chambers would need to agree to block a state’s electoral votes and Democrats control the House.
The Pennsylvania Republican Party said Monday that the 20 GOP electors had also met “to cast a conditional vote” for Trump, along with similar unofficial efforts in other states.
”We took the procedural vote to preserve any legal claims that may be presented going forward,” state Trump campaign chair Bernie Comfort said in a statement.
The party said the move was “fashioned after the 1960 presidential election,” in which Democratic electors from Hawaii cast a competing slate of votes after Republican Richard Nixon appeared to win the state by 141 votes. But in that election, a recount was underway that ultimately showed John F. Kennedy won the state by 115 votes, so when both sets of electoral votes were sent to Congress, Nixon himself — the vice president at the time — ignored the Republican slate, accepting the Democratic votes.
That distinguishes 1960 from this year, said Derek T. Muller, a law professor at the University of Iowa whose specialties include election law: There are no outstanding recounts or legal challenges that stand a chance of reversing Biden’s 81,000-vote win in Pennsylvania. ”There’s so many ways that this is going to fail that it’s just delusional,” Muller said.
Philadelphia City Councilmember Cindy Bass was also an elector for President Barack Obama in 2012 but said tensions were higher this time.
“There was a lot of concern about security and protests today and although I am so grateful that it wasn’t at all as expected, It still left folks on edge,” she said.
Electors gathered Monday morning wearing masks that said “59th Electoral College.” The luncheon at the Governor’s Mansion was canceled, along with any parties that might traditionally follow the vote.
Given Trump’s continued false claims that the election was stolen, several electors said they felt a heightened importance to their vote.
“It’s so humbling and extremely special but more than that this year, I think it has a stronger meaning for democracy,” said Marian Moskowitz, a Chester County Commissioner. “All these things went through my mind this morning driving up about how lucky I am to be in this position.”
Kenyatta said he wasn’t optimistic the day would put an end to Trump’s protestations over the results. A small group of protesters gathered in the snow at the Capitol to greet electors on Monday.
“I think the president will still keep crying and whining and talking about how unfair his life is even as a billionaire who ascended to the highest office in the land,” Kenyatta said. “Come January 20th he’s not going to do it from our house anymore.”