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Electoral college voter: long an honor and now also a headache

In Michigan, Democratic voters have been promised police escorts from their cars to the State Capitol, where they will officially vote for Joseph R. Biden Jr.

In Arizona, state officials are holding the vote at an undisclosed location for security reasons, away from what is expected to be a heated hearing on electoral integrity issues Republicans will conduct in the Statehouse.

Even in Delaware, the tiny, deeply Democratic home state of the president-elect, officials moved their ceremony to a college gymnasium, a site believed to offer better public health and safety checks.

For decades, Electoral College voters have been the would-be bureaucrats of American democracy, operating well below the political radar in providing pro forma certification of a new president. Despite its procedural nature, the role has long been viewed as an honor, bestowed as a means of recognizing political stature or civic service.

This year, the Electoral College is yet another piece of routine electoral mechanics thrown into the reticule of President Trump’s sustained assault on voting integrity. After five weeks of lawsuits, recounts and Republican investigations into unsubstantiated fraud allegations, Americans will look to the 538 Electoral College members to give a measure of finality to Mr Biden’s decisive victory.

And as voters in small towns face harassment and larger figures adjust to heightened security measures, a duty long regarded as a privilege has also become a headache. Even as voters prepared to vote on Monday, Mr. Trump on Twitter on Sunday denounced the “THE MOST CORRUPTED ELECTION IN UNITED STATES HISTORY” and suggested that swing states could not certify “Without committing a severely punishable crime” – raising more concerns about the personal safety of voters.

“Trump supporters didn’t get the same kind of vitriol in 2016,” said Khary Penebaker, a Democratic voter from Wisconsin who will vote for Mr. Biden at the State Capitol in Madison. “That’s scary stuff, man, and that’s not what America is supposed to be.”

Aside from security and pandemic concerns, which led to the state capitals of Michigan and Wisconsin being closed to the public, the process has become an unlikely media event. From protests outside polling stations to live broadcasts of activities inside the halls, voters, state officials and party leaders are bracing for an extraordinary attack.

The new focus on voters comes as the Electoral College system receives weak support from the American public, especially Democrats who say it does not represent the will of the people, after the last two presidents Republicans George W. Bush and President Trump took the White House while losing the popular vote.

Monday’s certifications will take place against a backdrop of tense partisan acrimony. The Supreme Court on Friday rejected the desperate 11th hour effort by Trump allies to change the election result, the latest in a string of stinging legal defeats. A broader effort to persuade legislatures in Republican-controlled states to swap Democratic voters for a list loyal to Mr. Trump has also failed.

Despite the legal losses, much of the party rallied around the president’s desire to overthrow the will of millions of voters, resulting in a wave of outrage and threats from supporters who now believe in the theories of the president’s plot.

On Saturday, thousands of Mr. Trump’s supporters demonstrated in Washington DC and several state capitals, many carrying Trump signs and chanting “four more years.” Clashes with counter-demonstrators produced several incidents of violence.

The anger of the president’s supporters – and their seemingly unwavering adherence to his false narrative of stolen elections – can prove difficult to quench.

“I don’t think we’re at a point where Joe Biden can legitimately be called president-elect,” said Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio secretary of state who will vote for Mr. Trump in Columbus. “It’s almost laughable that anyone who thinks President Trump should give in prematurely.”

Even some Republicans who are more willing to acknowledge electoral reality seem unable to give up hope entirely.

“I imagine Monday can close the door,” said Michael Burke, who just won his reelection as President of the Republican Party in Pinal County, Arizona. “Most people are realistic that the way is narrowing so that we can change anything. But, you know, miracles happen.

For Democrats, the Electoral College vote will be the latest assertion of the defeat of a president who they say has undermined the foundations of the country’s political system.

“Our courts and our institutions have stood,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, who will serve as a voter for the third time on Monday, voting for Mr. Biden. “No politician – no matter his ego and however reckless his lies – will compromise the will of the people.

Embedded in the Constitution, voters are called upon to act weeks after the end of elections. A majority is required by law or by the promise to vote for the winner of the popular vote in his state. Although the Constitution allows them to change their votes (unless state laws prohibit it), becoming what are known as “unfaithful voters,” they never changed the outcome of an election.

Their votes are usually a matter of sleep, a final ceremonial step in moving the country forward towards inauguration day.

Not this year.

The 16 who will vote for Mr Biden in Michigan are expected to walk through a gauntlet of protesters, some armed, from a group who believe the election was stolen from Mr Trump.

“It’s terrible when these things are used to intimidate people,” said Bobbie Walton, 84, a longtime political activist from Davison, Mich., And first-time voter. “Maybe I should wear one of my favorite t-shirts: ‘Don’t push, I’m old’.

In Wisconsin, voters were given new security protocols on Friday, with instructions to enter the Capitol District through an unmarked side door away from expected protesters.

“You watch the Batman movie and you see how he jumps through the waterfall to get to the Batcave,” Mr. Penebaker, the Democratic voter for Waukesha County who is also a gun control activist. “It’s like that.”

Mr Penebaker and the other nine Wisconsin voters have received a wave of pleas on social media and email from Trump supporters in recent weeks urging them to renounce their loyalty to Mr Biden. Some posted comments on a photo Mr. Penebaker shared on Instagram of his teenage son’s new haircut, urging him to ditch Mr. Biden.

An email from a woman in eastern Wisconsin pleaded with Democratic voters in Wisconsin in apocalyptic terms. “For goodness sake, don’t destroy America as we have known it,” the woman wrote in the email, which was viewed by The New York Times.

Much of the security concern centers on five states that only affected Mr. Biden: Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona and Pennsylvania. The states won by Mr. Trump don’t expect much heckling in their votes. Frank LaRose, Secretary of State for Ohio, said he had not requested additional security measures.

The growing coronavirus pandemic adds to the general feeling of anxiety. Public health restrictions have prompted several states to limit the public to their events and enforce strict masking and social distancing guidelines.

As a result, more than half of the states plan to broadcast their events live, provide transparency, and anticipate some of the conspiratorial thoughts that many officials plan to follow their events.

Once voters have voted, the votes are counted and voters sign certificates showing the results. These are matched with certificates from the governor’s office showing the state’s total votes. Typically, the whole process takes less than an hour.

Van R. Johnson, the mayor of Savannah, Georgia, said his security service had been beefed up due to his role as a voter. He described the decision as a “precautionary measure” that did not stem from specific threats but, he said, reflected the climate in which voters were working.

“It’s a crazy time,” he added, “and we don’t know what these people are going to do.”

Yet none of it, he said, has eclipsed how “exhilarating and humiliating” it is to be one of 16 Democratic voters, the first in Georgia in nearly three decades, the last time a Democrat won the state.

A voter from Wisconsin, State Representative Shelia Stubbs of Madison, said she cried with joy after being named a voter this year.

“Being an African American and a woman, and being able to be a voter to see Senator Kamala Harris become our vice president – that’s an ‘aah!’ moment, ”she said. “I’m so excited.” She said she had been urged to “do the right thing” but had not received any threatening messages.

Although the process for selecting voters varies, they are generally chosen by States Parties. Each state has the same number of voters as senators and congressional representatives, plus three voters from the District of Columbia, which has no congressional representation.

There is no real qualification to become a voter beyond a deep connection with a political party, whether as an activist, donor, politician or super-volunteer. Those invited to serve range from former President Bill Clinton to Mary Arnold, a retired social worker who is president of the local Democratic Party in Columbia County, Wisconsin – a swinging area just north of Madison that has picked Mr. Trump by just 517 – the voting margin.

Ms. Arnold says that most of her neighbors in Columbus, the small town of about 5,000 where she grew up and has now retired, have supported and excited her.

“If people want to push me away, let them,” she said. “I certainly won’t let anyone try to push me – I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.

In Delaware, John D. Daniello prides himself on helping kickstart Mr. Biden’s political career, saying he drafted the president-elect to replace him on New Castle County Council in 1970.

The 88-year-old former state party chairman is disappointed that his daughter, the current party chair, cannot accompany him to the college gymnasium where he will vote. And he’s not sure if he will attend Mr. Biden’s inauguration, given his age and the pandemic.

But Mr Daniello does not intend to miss his chance to vote in his state’s election for his old friend.

“We are known as the first state to sign the constitution, so I consider my vote the first vote for him,” he said. “Hell or believe, I’ll show myself up there.”

Kathleen Gray, Kay Nolan and Hank Stephenson contributed reporting.