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Elections

With unusual attention, Pa. presidential electors officially cast votes for Joe Biden

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Trump supporters protest outside the Capitol building on Monday, Dec. 14. Twenty electors from across Pennsylvania gathered in Harrisburg today to cast their votes for Joe Biden.
JOSE F. MORENO / Philadelphia Inquirer

This article is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. This article is available for reprint under the terms of Votebeat’s republishing policy.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s 20 presidential electors have officially cast their ballots for Democrat Joe Biden, certifying the president-elect’s November win even as the outgoing president continues to falsely claim victory.

Normally a formality in the lead-up to Inauguration Day, the meeting of the 538 electors in all 50 states has received far greater attention than usual as President Donald Trump — who lost to Biden in Pennsylvania by 80,555 votes — continues to deny the results of November’s election and urge his fellow Republicans and courts to overturn it.

In Pennsylvania, several conservative state Republicans were in favor of taking such measures by ignoring the popular vote and appointing their own slate of pro-Trump electors, but the idea was shot down by GOP leadership.

To make room for social distancing, officials moved the event from its usual location in the chambers of the state House of Representatives, to the 1,600-seat Forum Auditorium nearby.

Gov. Tom Wolf, still under quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19, did not attend.

The slate of electors — selected by Biden — included current and former state and local elected officials, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and Democratic party leaders. They each cast their ballots for Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and signed certificates, which are sent to the president of the U.S. Senate — Vice President Mike Pence — the Pennsylvania secretary of state, the national archivist, and the presiding federal district judge in Harrisburg.

“Your participation today in this electoral college proves once again the durability of our Constitution and the majesty of our democracy,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar, referencing a 1992 concession speech given by former President George H.W. Bush.

The meeting Monday went off largely without a hitch, despite some heightened concerns for protests. A handful of protesters carrying Trump flags gathered at the Capitol in the snow and rain as electors met.

The meeting comes as coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania have soared, prompting Wolf to reinstate temporary business closures, suspend indoor dining and impose limits on gatherings.

Citing the pandemic, a spokesperson for Boockvar said the Electoral College meeting was limited to five media representatives. Everyone was required to wear a mask and have their temperatures taken. The meeting itself was live-streamed and lasted about an hour.

The spokesperson, Wanda Murren, also said she could not discuss any security measures taken to protect the electors. A spokesperson for elector Val Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County board of commissioners, said electors were asked not to share logistical details about the meeting ahead of time.

Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chair Nancy Mills invoked in her remarks the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, and her status as the first woman to be the presiding officer of the state’s electoral college.

“As a woman I could not imagine a more historical moment for me as well as all the women who have come before me,” said Mills, who also cited the election of the first woman vice president.

Pennsylvania, a battleground state that Trump won in 2016 by 44,000 votes, was the target of dozens of lawsuits and false allegations surrounding mail ballots before and after the election. Universal mail-in voting was instituted for the first time this year, and more than 2.6 million people voted this way.

Although state and local election officials — as well as Trump’s own justice department — have said the election was secure and there was no widespread voter fraud, some GOP legislative members have insisted Boockvar created “chaos and confusion” by issuing conflicting guidance to county election officials regarding how to handle mail ballots.

Trump, who has sought to undermine mail-in voting for months, had attempted to persuade the GOP-led legislature to reject Biden’s electors and send its own slate of pro-Trump electors to Harrisburg, and several conservative lawmakers were pushing for the idea. But interim Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) and House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R., Centre) have said on numerous occasions that the legislature would have no role in deciding the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

More than 60 Republicans, including Benninghoff and House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R., Lancaster) did ask Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to reject Biden’s electors when their votes are counted during a joint session in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6.

To start the process of rejecting electors, at least one U.S. House member and one U.S. senator would have to sign an objection, according to the Congressional Research Service. It would then have to be accepted by both the U.S. House, which is controlled by Democrats, and the GOP-led U.S. Senate.

Pennsylvania’s Republican U.S. senator, Pat Toomey, said he wouldn’t object to the state’s slate of electors.

A few minutes after the Electoral College meeting ended Monday, the state Republican party said in a statement that, at Trump’s request, Republican electors had met in Harrisburg and cast a “conditional vote” for Trump and Pence, to be used in the case of any “final, non-appealable court order.”

Bernie Comfort, Pennsylvania chair of the Trump campaign, called it a “procedural vote” and said it was “in no way an effort to usurp or contest the will of the Pennsylvania voters.”

Those votes are unlikely to hold any merit, as they have not been certified and no other election-related lawsuits are pending in Pennsylvania.

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D., Philadelphia), one of Biden’s electors, said today’s vote was proof that despite Republicans’ objections and challenges to the election results, “this is a big, big victory for democracy.”

“I think rumors of America’s demise are overstated,” he said. “Our democracy is intact, and I think today was a prime example of that.”

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