Once it was clear to him that Joe Biden had won the election, Bill Feehan, chair of the La Crosse County Republican Party in Wisconsin, tried to push the disappointing outcome to the back of his mind. If Donald Trump had won the state, Feehan would have been one of the 10 GOP electors to cast a vote for the candidate, the final stage of the byzantine process by which Americans choose a president.
But since the Democrat won, the task instead falls to electors chosen by that party. With his candidate defeated, Feehan was ready to move on. But his candidate, Donald Trump, is not.
And like the president, many members of Feehan’s local GOP aren’t so willing to accept the loss.
On Monday night, at the La Crosse County Republican Party’s monthly meeting, around 80 people showed up, many of them “concerned about voter fraud,” he said, and asking, “what, if anything, the Republican Party of Wisconsin is going to do about it.”
Despite winning more popular votes than any candidate in history, in enough states to put him over the 270 Electoral College votes to win, Biden doesn’t officially secure his spot in the Oval Office until the Electoral College votes on Dec. 14.
Normally, this step is mostly ceremonial, as electors vote for the same candidate as their constituents did. But Trump and a growing list of Republican supporters are attempting to undermine and delegitimize Biden’s win after months of attempting to suppress the vote. Trump and his campaign are amplifying baseless claims of widespread voter fraud — even though the GOP overall performed well around the nation — and have filed flimsy lawsuits. Mainstream Republicans are refusing to acknowledge Biden’s win. The attorney general has also opened an investigation into voter “irregularities,” of which there is not substantial evidence.
Amid this, some states allow electors to choose any candidate, regardless of vote counts, leaving open the possibility of so-called faithless electors swinging the election at the last minute. The US Supreme Court ruled this summer, however, that states could punish electors who do not vote for the winner of the popular vote in their state.
Does that wrinkle of US electoral law give Feehan any hope of a changed outcome? Does he have any plans to try to persuade his Democratic elector counterparts to vote for Trump?
“I haven’t even thought about it,” he said, adding that he saw nothing to make him doubt Biden’s victory. “I’m a man of reason, so I look to see what evidence is there right now, and essentially I haven't seen any evidence that proves that there was massive voter fraud, enough to change 20,000 votes in the state of Wisconsin.”
And in Nevada, Eileen Rice, a Republican elector in a state Biden won, said she thought it was clear that the race was over. At least in Nevada. She expects a smooth transition of power.
While she thought mail-in voting was fraught with the possibilities of discrepancies, Rice said, “I don't think there's going to be enough of those instances, if they find them, to make a difference. The margin is just too wide.”
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James DeGraffenreid, a Republican elector and insurance agent in Nevada, only gets to vote in the Electoral College if Trump wins the state. He said he was still waiting to see how things were going to shake out.
“We're waiting to see what the results end up being when everything's finally counted. We're hopeful obviously that we will be the electors,” he told BuzzFeed News. “There's a lot of questions about what has happened. Certainly not all the ballots are counted. The last we knew, there were still tens of thousands of ballots to be counted in Clark County.”
BuzzFeed News spoke to 11 electors in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Nevada — among the closely fought swing states that tilted the outcome — and nearly all expressed confidence that despite Trump’s lawsuits, and despite Republicans' attempts to overturn the result, the age-old process of installing a new president would move forward as it always has: with the winner at the ballot box elected into office.
“I really don’t think they would go against the will of the people,” said Susan Nichols, a Democratic elector and chair of her local Democratic Party in Northville, Michigan.
That hasn’t stopped some from trying. In an email viewed by BuzzFeed News, Michigan’s Democratic Party warned its electors that some of them “have already had some folks reach out in order to lobby a ‘faithless’ vote.” But the effort is futile: In Michigan, electors are prohibited from voting against the constituents they represent.
Though the particulars vary by state, electors are typically selected by their respective parties or chosen by local voters. They range from local activists to party officials to high-ranking state politicians. Some ran for office themselves this election.
Democrat Nina Ahmad — a scientist, immigrant, and a woman of color — lost her race for Pennsylvania auditor general last week. Her race was one of two statewide positions currently held by Democrats that the party lost in the swing state — even though Biden took the Keystone State in the presidential race.
On Dec. 14, Ahmad will be one of 20 Pennsylvanian electors voting in the Electoral College for Biden. She dismisses any voting issues claimed by the Trump campaign as baseless, pointing out that she accepts her own loss without question.
“I had a lot at stake. I could easily say it’s false and I lost votes and it’s all fake,” she told BuzzFeed News. “It’s real, and this is the voice of the people.”
Ryan Boyer, a union leader and fellow Pennsylvania elector for the Democratic Party, also noted that losing two statewide races, as well as seats in the House and Senate, showed that election fraud by Democrats in Pennsylvania was laughable.
“If the Democrats were going to steal the election, they did a terrible job,” he told BuzzFeed News.
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Boyer, who is a business manager of the Laborers District Council, a construction union, and chair of the Delaware River Port Authority, which manages the four bridges that cross the Delaware River between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, pointed out that Republicans controlled the state Senate.
“To say the election was stolen is to effectively say the Republicans did something wrong,” he said.
There have been discussions by Republicans to try to change the will of Pennsylvania voters. Lawrence Tabas, chair of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, told the Atlantic before the election that he had mentioned to the Trump campaign the possibility of the state legislature appointing Republican-aligned electors rather than a Biden slate if the election was “flawed” (Pennsylvania is the only state where the presidential campaigns nominate the electors), calling it “one of the available legal options set forth in the Constitution.”
A small group of Republican officials held a press conference Tuesday in the state's capitol building in Harrisburg, calling for an audit of the election before the state’s presidential election is certified.
Ahmad dismissed this group as a handful of Trump allies. “This is just the fringe element, making sure they are signaling to mein führer that they are still with him until he takes the poison pill,” she said.
The state's Senate majority leader, Jake Corman, a Republican, has complained about the voting process but said the party will “certainly want to stay with the tradition of the popular vote winner getting the electors.”
“I don’t expect the legislature to try anything but these are strange times,” said Rick Bloomingdale, the president of labor union Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and an elector for Biden. “They won their elections fair and square. Joe Biden won his election fair and square.”
The Pennsylvania Democratic electors said state officials did an excellent job running the election, pointing out the unprecedented number of mail-in ballots they processed.
“I believe in the systems that were put in place, every ballot and polling location had maximum transparency,” Boyer said. He added that the Pennsylvania Convention Center — Philadelphia's vote-counting location, where a Count Every Vote dance party was held outside for days — had “probably more cameras than a casino.”
Ahmad agreed, saying that comments by the president and local Republicans to question the electoral system were insulting to poll workers.
“I give high marks to our board of elections across these 67 counties and the workers who have toiled and continue to toil,” she said. “They have done an incredible job under difficult circumstances. What the Trump people have done is try and make their lives impossible. These are not politicians; they are just doing their job regardless of party. For them to be harassed like this is really not acceptable.”
These electors take their role in electing the next president extremely seriously and want people concerned about Republicans' attempts to steal the election to know that they are doing their part to uphold the country’s institutions.
Ahmad was the first woman of color to be the Democratic nominee for a statewide executive office in Pennsylvania. “I am deeply invested in Kamala Harris being on that ticket in history,” she said.
“The voters in the state of Pennsylvania have spoken and we need to respect the rule of the voters,” said Daisy Cruz, district leader of the mid-Atlantic region at the 32BJ SEIU labor union and a Pennsylvania Democratic elector. “I don't think people should have any concerns.”
Bloomingdale agreed. “I expect our history and tradition to prevail and democracy to prevail, and on Dec. 14 I will be casting my vote for Joe Biden for president and Kamala Harris for vice president,” he said.
The historical significance does not escape Bloomingdale, who was slated to be a 2016 elector for Clinton before she lost the state. "As somebody who loves American history, to be able to participate in this level,” he said, “when you walk up and put your ballot in a 250-year-old ballot box that’s been around since George Washington was elected president — it is a pretty amazing feeling and really something to remind us of how great American democracy is."
In Nevada, which Biden won, both Republican and Democratic electors praised the work of Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske to run an unprecedented election smoothly with a flood of mail-in ballots.
Roberta Lange, who was elected to the Nevada state Senate this election cycle, said she was excited to cast her vote for Joe Biden. She’s dismissed the claims from Republicans of possible voter fraud.
“I just think it’s sour grapes on the part of the Trump campaign,” Lange said. “They have every right to have recounts and things that are under the law, but the more that they tried to extend this is harmful to the American people and to our country.”
Still, she said, she had trust in the process and had no doubts that the Electoral College vote in December would go smoothly. She hasn’t received any threats or intimidation about casting her votes, and she added: “Biden won by a lot here.”
Demetrius Beam, a teacher and cross-country coach, is an alternate Democratic elector who said that while he didn’t have any specific concerns about Nevada, he still is worried about how the Trump campaign may try to undermine the process before the Electoral College officially chooses the president.
“I’ve gone through a swing of emotions,” he said. “Seeing what they're willing to do already does bring up a little concern when they've got another month” until the Electoral College vote.
The nature of the country’s Electoral College system brings disproportionate attention to the small handful of states that typically swing presidential elections. The process adds an element of opaque bureaucracy and leaves room for doubt in states where the margins are thin.
Feehan, the Wisconsin elector, said that he’s heard “lots and lots of reports from people” who claim they have evidence of election misconduct. So far, though, each case that comes across his desk brings evidence of something else: Most people aren’t experts in the complicated rules governing US elections.
“Somebody got seven applications for an absentee ballot; I had to explain to that person that getting a form to request an absentee ballot is not any form of violation,” he said. “Or Democrats going door to door to collect ballots. Right across the river in Minnesota that would be illegal, but here in Wisconsin it’s not.”
The current system “doesn’t lend itself to giving people confidence in the result,” he said. “It’s understandable people are emotional about this. So when they see things that seem unusual in many cases, they jump to the conclusion that it’s actually fraud when it actually isn't. I hope that as a nation we can come to some kind of learning from the outcome here.”
So far, the most visible response from those upset by the election’s outcome has been rage.
Nichols, the Michigan elector, said that her mailbox was vandalized last Wednesday, which she suspected may have had to do with the 20 signs on her lawn supporting Democratic candidates. Though her presidential candidate won this time around, Nichols believes the country should “abolish” a process that effectively voids the votes of millions of Americans in states that aren’t up for grabs.
“I’m tired of this winner-take-all game,” she said. “Why are we waiting till Saturday morning to find out when one candidate had 4.5 million more votes?”
“That’s what I think about the Electoral College,” she continued, adding, “but I’m very honored to be one of 16 electors from Michigan to go up to the state capitol and cast my vote for Biden and Harris.”
Albert Samaha is Inequality Editor at BuzzFeed News and author of two books, "Concepcion: An Immigrant Family's Fortunes" and "Never Ran, Never Will: Boyhood and Football in a Changing American Inner City." He is based in New York.
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