Gov. Nathan Deal shakes hands after talking to Georgia’s electors before they cast their Electoral College ballots Monday in the state Senate chamber at the state Capitol. “Do your job,” Deal told the electors, who gave all 16 of Georgia’s votes to Donald Trump. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: Steve Schaefer
Photo: Steve Schaefer

No drama in Georgia as electors unanimously back Trump

Donald Trump was officially declared the winner of the 2016 presidential election Monday when electors in Georgia and other states formally cast their ballots for him, despite mounting pressure from critics who said he was unfit for the presidency.

The normally ho-hum convening of the Electoral College in statehouses across the nation became a drawn-out media spectacle as Trump’s critics deluged Republican electors with appeals to defy the New York businessman.

In Georgia and nearly every other state that Trump won, though, the only drama was how quickly the electors would line up behind the president-elect. All 16 of Georgia’s Republican electors said long before Monday’s vote that they would support him, and across the nation only one or two of the 306 electoral votes he captured were at risk.

Trump topped the 270 electoral votes he needed to become president when Texas electors formally voted. Aside from two Texas electors who defected, there were no signs of revolt against Trump among electors in the states he won.

Instead, the dissent came from the other side of the aisle. Three electors in Washington state cast their vote for Republican Colin Powell rather than Democrat Hillary Clinton, who won the state’s popular vote. A fourth voted for Faith Spotted Eagle, a local environmentalist. And in Colorado, one elector had to be replaced after refusing to vote for Clinton.

In Georgia, where Trump won a 5-point victory over Clinton, applause pealed out across the ornate state Senate chambers when the voting was complete.

“They had a great time today. I didn’t see a frown on anyone’s face, and I think that’s pretty important,” said a beaming Georgia GOP Chairman John Padgett, one of the 16 electors who celebrated Trump’s Georgia sweep.

Padgett was named an elector minutes before the vote to replace Baoky Vu, who made national headlines in August when he said he might not cast his Electoral College ballot for Trump if he won. He resigned hours later and was lionized by some Trump critics hoping to persuade more electors to follow his lead.

The demonstrators gathered outside the Gold Dome and statehouses across the nation invoked Vu in appealing for a last-minute change of heart among GOP electors, many of whom were handpicked by Republican leaders.

“I am here because I am afraid for our country. I am afraid for minorities. I am afraid for gays and lesbians and for women,” said Valerie Gilbert, one of several hundred demonstrators outside the Georgia Capitol. “And I am hoping that the electors will have a last-minute change of heart. They need to do what’s right for our country.”

But the demonstrators also wanted to serve notice that they’ll continue to protest Trump’s legislative agenda and push back against his presidency.

“I hope we can convince some electors to change their minds, but regardless of what happens it’s important to be here,” said Louise Runyon, who was holding a sign asking electors to “do the right thing.” “This is not the end for us. It’s the beginning.”

The marchers were only a part of the intense lobbying campaign from Trump’s critics.

Left-leaning groups circulated the names, emails, phone numbers and sometimes the home addresses of GOP electors. Many Georgia electors reported receiving a tidal wave of emails — some reported close to 100,000 messages — as well as home-made YouTube clips, handwritten appeals and early-morning phone calls.

“A lot of people were respectful, but some were not so much,” said Michael McNeely, an elector who is also vice chairman of the Georgia GOP. “The electors had a duty, and we were here to respect the people. And we did that. The people of this nation spoke, and Donald Trump is now the president.”

Georgia is one of about 20 states that doesn’t bind electors to the winner of the state’s vote, but there have been relatively few cases of so-called “faithless electors” who buck their state’s pick. And no vote switch has ever affected the outcome of a presidential election.

The vote in Georgia was held under intense scrutiny, with a crush of reporters filing into the state Senate on the third floor of the state Capitol to watch the balloting. Many longtime Capitol observers could not recall attending an Electoral College vote; the 2012 gathering was largely overlooked by the media.

The electors, too, had to brace for a sudden share of the spotlight. Some were high-powered attorneys and well-known party leaders used to the attention, but others were grass-roots activists who spent much of their free time advocating for GOP causes.

As sign-waving protesters chanted “This is what democracy looks like” outside the Capitol, the electors were ushered in the room amid high security. Soon, Republican officials gave them a final pep talk before the vote.

Gov. Nathan Deal said he had a simple message — “Do your job,” he told them — and U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, a Cassville Republican, gave a not-so-subtle nudge urging them to stand by Trump.

“I know most of you here,” he said, “and I have no doubt you’ll do the right thing.”

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