US presidential electors explain the Electoral College

Al Jazeera speaks to Biden and Trump electors before Monday’s Electoral College vote.

A supporter of President-elect Joe Biden holds up his mobile phone to display the electoral college map after the 2020 Presidential Election is called, November 7, 2020, in Philadelphia [John Minchillo/AP Photo]

The Electoral College, the United States’ quirky and sometimes controversial method for electing its presidents, is set to formally cast its ballots across the country on Monday.

President Donald Trump’s unprecedented efforts to overturn the election results have attempted to cast doubt and confusion on the system as a whole. Despite Trump’s actions, the Electoral College system has guided presidential elections since the US’s first election in 1789.

“We need it. There is a good reason it’s there and without it one or two states would always select the president because of their high population,” said Nelson Diaz, a Florida elector and active member of the Republican Party for the last two decades.

Role of the Electoral College

On Monday, the 538 electors will meet in their respective state capitals to take part in the Electoral College process set out in the Constitution. President-elect Joe Biden is expected to win 306 electoral votes to President Trump’s 232. Two hundred seventy votes are needed to win the election.

Jonathan Fletcher, chairman of the Gaston County Republican Party in North Carolina, has been actively involved with the Republican Party since he began working as a volunteer at the age of 12. Serving as a Trump elector – Trump won North Carolina’s popular vote on Election Day and, therefore, won the state’s 15 electoral votes – has been a lifelong dream for Fletcher, and he sees the Electoral College as a fundamental part of the US political system.

Jonathan Fletcher, a 2020 presidential elector from North Carolina [Courtesy of Jonathan Fletcher]

“I believe the Electoral College is one of the most important pieces in the framework of our Constitutional Republic. Contrary to popular belief, we are not a democracy where the people directly elect all of their leaders or directly vote on policy.

“The Electoral College is what keeps a select group of states from being able to control the entire political process in the country,” Fletcher added.

Blake Mazurek, an eighth grade US history public school teacher and Michigan elector, has always been politically active, but after the 2016 election, he canvassed thousands of doors, volunteered on campaigns, and participated in various governance committees, which led to his unanimous election as an elector at the Democratic Party’s state convention in August of this year.

Mazurek also acknowledges the importance of the Electoral College dating back to the country’s founding – it was built as a compromise to balance the power between the federal government and states, while also ensuring proper representation. However, he believes that “we, as a nation, need to re-examine the usefulness of this institution”.

“Twice in my lifetime, in 2000 and 2016, the candidate who received a majority of our nation’s citizen vote, lost the presidency. Should we have a system that ignores the will of the people?” Mazurek asked.

Blake Mazurek, a 2020 presidential elector from Michigan [Courtesy of Blake Mazurek]

Meedie Bardonille, a registered nurse and one of three women selected to represent the District of Columbia in the Electoral College, sees the process as an “imperfect compromise seeking to preserve our democracy”.

Bardonille agrees that it may be time to re-evaluate the system to better reflect the will of the people. But she also worries about whether the process is truly representative of all 50 US states and Washington, DC.

“If you just campaign in five or seven states, you don’t have to worry about the rest of the country. And I think that’s where I have a little bit of a problem with the Electoral College because the president is the president for all 50 states.”

Marian Moskowitz, a real estate developer, entrepreneur, and the first Democrat to be appointed as Chair of the Chester County Board of Commissioners in Pennsylvania, echoes these sentiments and believes that society has shifted tremendously since the creation of the Electoral College process.

“When we look at it today, and we look at the growth of the population, and our ability to understand more and know who it is we’re voting for, I think it’s time that we really do start looking at the popular vote, because you can see by the past elections, that the winner of the popular vote has not won because of the Electoral College.”

President Trump’s reaction

Trump’s unprecedented behaviour and rhetoric in the aftermath of the election outcome has drawn both support and fierce criticism.

In the weeks after the election, Trump’s campaign team has filed dozens of lawsuits, requested recounts, and even toyed with the idea of having some Republican state legislatures replace slates of Biden electors in a desperate plea to overturn election results.

Diaz believes that President Trump has every right to question the election outcome.

Nelson Diaz, a 2020 presidential elector from Florida [Courtesy of Nelson Diaz]

“There is always some degree of fraud and abuse in elections. But never enough to make a dent. I believe there has been a lot of fraud and abuse in this election.  The anomalies are just too high.”

To date, there has been no conclusive evidence demonstrating widespread voter fraud in the election.

Mazurek fully supports candidates’ rights to challenge election results, but only when warranted.

“I firmly believe anyone running for office has the right to challenge the election results of their races if there is any evidence of fraud, error or maleficence.  That being said, it has been shown throughout the nation, that there was no widespread fraud or error that would impact any race, let alone the presidency.”

Bardonille sees Trump’s response as an act of fraud itself and feels disheartened as an American citizen to see the president blatantly disregard the democratic process.

“My initial response to him finding ways and trying to get other Republican-led states to get their electors changed to become Republican electors, I think that’s basically voter fraud, quite frankly. I think the process has already been spoken, it’s already been clear and transparent.”

While Fletcher believes that the president is right to make sure all legal ballots are counted before the election is concluded, he believes the people should pay more attention to the Electoral College process itself.

“It is the Electoral College vote that actually matters in the end anyway, so I believe more people should be focusing on that part of the process.”

Marian Moskowitz, a 2020 presidential elector from Pennsylvania [Courtesy of Marian Moskowitz]

Moskowitz is concerned about the effect Trump’s actions and rhetoric will have on the future. She has no doubt that Joe Biden has won the election, but worries about the consequences of a messy transition of power.

“Trump needs to admit that Joe Biden has won, because what’s going to happen is when Joe Biden gets in, there’s always going to be doubt by those 70 million people that voted for Donald Trump.

“And what Trump has been allowed to do by the Republican Party is to discredit our government, and our democracy,” Moskowitz added.

More than just a vote

For many electors, the chance to cast a formal ballot for the next president and vice president is the opportunity of a lifetime.

While the 2020 presidential election was one of the most politically polarised races in recent history, it has shed light on the Electoral College process, but in many past elections, it was treated more of a formality than a constitutionally-mandated process to elect the president.

Moskowitz noted this important shift.

“Before this, most people didn’t even understand what an elector was. But this year, more than I ever remember, people are so interested and they’re learning and they’re reading.

Meedie Bardonille, a 2020 presidential elector from Washington, DC [Courtesy of Meedie Bardonille]

“With the way Donald Trump has been handling this, it’s just so critical that this be done properly,” Moskowitz added.

The election has also been groundbreaking. When Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris take office in January, Harris will become the first woman, the first Asian American, and the first Black American to be elected as vice president.

One hundred years after US women were given the right to vote, Bardonille recognises that her vote shatters glass ceilings that were in place less than a century ago.

“I believe for me, it is an opportunity for me to realize that I am participating in a system that was not designed for me. Not only as an African American, but not even as a woman.”

Source: Al Jazeera