‘Full circle.’ Electoral College vote in Georgia is a major moment in state politics

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Georgia’s 16 Democratic electors will formally cast their ballots for President-elect Joe Biden on Monday in a simple Statehouse ceremony that will mark an outsized moment in state politics.

The often-overlooked process will force top Republicans to confront a new challenge: With the Electoral College vote cemented, will they continue to echo President Donald Trump’s false claims of a “stolen” election or cast their full focus toward the Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoffs?

The 16 Georgians who will officially make Biden the first Democrat to capture the state since 1992 are a cross section of the state party: politicians and power brokers, local legislators and activists, high-powered lawyers and civil rights veterans.

This group of electors has none of the drama that was attached to the Republican contingent from Georgia four years ago that was under siege to withhold votes from Trump after his stunning victory.

Though the electors were at the center of an intense lobbying campaign from left-leaning groups that circulated their names, phone numbers and addresses, each promptly voted for Trump, though one recused himself months earlier and was replaced.

This time the controversy is the civil war raging on the other side of the party line. Republicans are at odds with each other over Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of a “rigged” election, and he’s attacked Gov. Brian Kemp and other state Republicans for refusing to overturn the results.

State election officials have certified and recertified the outcome after three separate tallies, and judges have rejected every legal challenge seeking to block Biden’s win.

U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue have tried to appease Trump by backing litigation supporting his claims and calling for Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to step down, but their allies worry that the mixed messages alleging a fraudulent election could depress GOP turnout for the runoffs.

Trump, too, has put out dizzying spin on Twitter, sometimes acknowledging an incoming “Biden administration” while other times falsely claiming he won. Many Republicans won’t admit defeat until Congress validates the electoral votes on Jan. 6 or until Biden takes office on Jan. 20.

“Monday is an important step for moving forward,” said state House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, one of the 16 electors. “It will be the moment you can point to that says Joe Biden is without question the president. At that point, anyone who continues to take issue with that is taking issue with the democratic process.”

Though there might be protests at the Georgia Statehouse and other state capitols, where other slates of electors will be casting ballots around the same time, there isn’t likely to be a tense standoff promised in some pro-Trump legal challenges.

Joseph Brannan, a Columbus-area Republican activist who would have been a Trump elector, said there are no plans for him or any of his GOP counterparts to make an appearance.

“I haven’t been asked to show up at the Capitol, nor do I intend to do so,” he said. “They’re still playing through the legal cases, and the president has every right to do that. But I don’t see it changing the national outcome. At this point, it’s more about safeguarding the Jan. 5 runoffs and looking forward.”

Some of Trump’s supporters are still pressing their unsubstantiated claims of a rigged election, even as the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday refused the president’s attempts to toss out millions of votes in Georgia and three other battleground states and render a different verdict.

“We have not given up. We are still in the fight for our president,” U.S. Rep. Jody Hice told a crowd of hundreds in Canton at a “Save America Coalition” rally focused on the Senate runoffs. “We want fair elections — and we only want legal ballots.”

Democrats, meanwhile, are preparing for their moment in history. Atop the Georgia list of electors are two of the most familiar faces in state politics: Stacey Abrams and U.S. Rep.-elect Nikema Williams, the state party’s chair.

There are other high-profile figures, including Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, state Rep. Pedro Marin, state Sen. Gloria Butler and the two outgoing Democratic leaders of the Senate and House, Steve Henson and Trammell.

But the list is also dotted with Democrats better known for their work in the trenches.

Rome Commissioner Wendy Davis is among the party’s leading organizers, Bobby Fuse has won acclaim as a civil rights hero in Sumter County and Deborah Gonzalez is the incoming district attorney for the governor’s hometown.

Sachin Varghese is one of the party’s legal standouts, and Cathy Woolard is a former Atlanta City Council president who helped mastermind the Beltline.

Then there’s state Rep. Calvin Smyre, the longest-serving member of the Legislature. He was an elector the last time a Georgia Democrat cast one of those heralded ballots — for Bill Clinton 28 years ago — and said it’s “quite amazing” to have the chance to do so again.

This time around, he’s been on the receiving end of a flood of emails claiming widespread voting fraud that have been rejected by state Republican officials and the courts. He’s planning to arrive early to savor the moment.

“It was calm in 1992 and chaos in 2020,” he said. “It’s been a long time, but we’ve come full circle politically.”