They are schoolteachers and high-powered lawyers, longtime party operatives and low-profile volunteers. And now Georgia’s 16 GOP electors have been thrust into the spotlight after Donald Trump’s stunning victory.
Petitions are circulating urging them to withhold their vote for the president-elect and back Hillary Clinton or another candidate instead. Leaflets handed out at anti-Trump protests include their names, addresses and contact information. Their phone lines and in-boxes are jammed with pleas to defy Trump.
Georgia’s 16 GOP electors are all but guaranteed to vote for Trump — each of the dozen reached by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week said they would support him — and their ranks are filled with the stalwart party activists who spend much of their free time fighting for Republican causes.
“I’m getting deluged,” said Michael McNeely, an elector who is also vice chairman of the Georgia GOP. “But for all the efforts of those sending those out, there’s no wavering at all. I’m fully supporting Donald Trump, and I’m not concerned any of us will flip.”
Still, Trump’s critics hope they have another Baoky Vu in the making. Vu was a Georgia GOP elector who said in August that he might not cast his Electoral College ballot for Trump should he win. He was forced to resign from his post hours later, but he’s been made into something of a hero for Trump critics hoping electors block his ascension to the White House.
Countless petitions are circulating aiming to ratchet up the pressure on Republican electors, including one on Change.org that has attracted more than 4.3 million people. And the thousands thronging to anti-Trump protests in Atlanta and other major cities are pressing for the same last-ditch change of heart.
“(Clinton) was the most qualified to win,” said Sidney Prescott, a 26-year-old who joined a downtown Atlanta rally the day after Trump’s win.
A mystery elector
The Trump critics are digging deep into their playbooks to sway electors, who are picked by their political parties.
Kirk Shook, an Oconee County social studies teacher, has received dozens of emotional pleas. One from a New York artist asked him to “search your own heart and try your own intellect.” Another dredged up his online bio, where he said he focused on history education in college, in pleading that he understand the “full gravity of this state of affairs.”
And then there was the YouTube link sent to Shook and dozens of other “Moral Electors” purporting to be from Trump. Attached was a three-minute clip of Trump’s crude remarks in the “Access Hollywood” video in 2005, which temporarily sent him plummeting in the polls and led some high-profile Republicans to abandon his campaign.
A dozen Georgia GOP electors said they were committed to voting for Trump on Dec. 19 when they gather in Atlanta to cast their Electoral College ballots. Party officials say three more who couldn’t be reached for comment are also Trump supporters.
The identity of the 16th elector, tapped to replace Vu, has not yet surfaced. A spokesman for the state party didn't immediately comment on who was picked for that spot.
Some don’t mind the barrage. Bruce Azevedo, a real estate agent who has received a mountain of emails, said it comes with the territory. So does Neil Pruitt, the chairman of the Board of Regents who is deeply involved in GOP politics, and Rachel Little, a Gwinnett County grass-roots leader.
“I will be happy when my in-box is a little less active,” she added.
Then again, Little has been spared some of the vitriol. A flier circulating with a phone number mistakenly directs callers to a frustrated Atlanta man who said he’s never met Little and hopes to get the word out that he’s not an elector.
Some of the messaging borders on harassment. Linda Herren, a Republican national committeewoman said she’s starting to get irritated by the constant phone calls, texts and emails wanting her to be a “faithless elector” and cast her ballot for Clinton.
“Especially the phone call that came in at 6 a.m. yesterday,” she said.
But the pushback goes beyond phone calls. Two of her Trump yard signs were stolen outside her Druid Hills home before the election, she said, and her front door was smeared with mud and dirt from a planter. She said other Trump supporters have gotten far worse — including a neighbor whose car was keyed with an expletive about the president-elect.
“I did not vote for (Barack) Obama either time. I was not happy with his win,” Herren said. “However, I just got on with my life and did none of the above.”
‘The people have spoken’
Clinton’s lead in the popular vote — she’s ahead of Trump by about 1 million votes — but defeat in the Electoral College has amped up the criticism of the system. California U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer filed a long-shot bill this week to scrap the method of picking a president, though Republicans say it amounts to sour grapes.
Trump tweeted this week that if the campaigns were based on popular vote he would have spent more time in California, Florida and New York and "won even bigger and more easily" over Clinton. And he called the Electoral College "genius," although he also said the system was a "disaster" four years ago after Obama's re-election.
Still, it has fueled the pleas aimed at GOP electors from Clinton supporters and others urging them to be “faithless” and switch their vote. 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 where that’s happened.
The group Fair Vote reports only 157 electors have failed to follow the dictates of their state's popular vote since the nation's founding, and many were changed because the candidate died before the Electoral College cast its votes. No vote switch has affected the outcome of a presidential election.
Both Clinton and Obama have urged their supporters to acknowledge Trump will soon be the president and channel their energy elsewhere.
“Those who didn’t vote for him have to recognize that that’s how democracy works. That’s how this system operates,” Obama said this week, adding: “Whenever you’ve got an incoming president of the other side, particularly in a bitter election like this, it takes a while for people to reconcile themselves with that new reality.”
Bobbie Frantz, a longtime DeKalb County GOP volunteer tapped as an elector, sounded a similar note. She said she received 177 emails through Tuesday morning — and probably an additional 30 while she was at lunch — all urging her to change her vote.
“They are trying to get us to vote for Hillary — or for anybody but Trump,” Frantz said. “But the people have spoken. Donald Trump is our president-elect. And I’ll be voting for what the people of Georgia want — Donald Trump.”