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With President Donald Trump and other Republicans attempting to sow doubt in Pennsylvania’s election integrity — despite the fact that in down-ballot races, GOP candidates largely won — presidential electors are likely to get more attention this year.
The group of 20 will meet in Harrisburg in a month to cast their votes for President-elect Joe Biden, who as of Friday was leading Trump by 59,230 votes, according to unofficial state results. Biden was declared the winner by the Associated Press on Saturday.
With all eyes on Pennsylvania — and soon, its 20 electors — here’s a look at who they are and what responsibilities they have.
What is the electoral college?
The framers of the U.S. Constitution created a system by which 538 people, or electors, serve as representatives for the people’s votes in each state and the District of Columbia. Once people vote, the electors then cast their votes directly for president and vice president.
Electors are determined by the number of U.S. senators and representatives each state has — that means we get 20 in Pennsylvania. In 48 states, including Pennsylvania, electors are selected in a “winner-take-all” system, whereby the candidate who wins the popular vote gets all the electoral votes.
How are electors chosen in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania law says each presidential candidate picks their electors within 30 days of their party’s national convention and submits those names to the secretary of the commonwealth, Kathy Boockvar.
On Election Day, voters cast their votes for the electors to represent their candidate of choice — that’s why, when you cast your ballot, you selected “electors for” either Biden, Trump, or Libertarian Jo Jorgensen — and the electors are appointed based on whichever candidate got the most votes. In Pennsylvania, unofficial results show the 20 electors will go to Biden.
What qualifications must they have?
The U.S. Constitution prohibits electors from being members of Congress or holding federal office. The 14th Amendment, adopted after the Civil War, prevents any elected officeholders who have rebelled against the U.S. from serving as electors.
Could the state legislature block Biden’s electors?
Federal law says electors are appointed on Election Day when voters make their candidate selection. And state law outlines how electors are picked by political parties’ presidential candidates.
But — in theory — that could change if the validity of Pennsylvania’s results is cast into doubt, as Trump and GOP leaders in the state have attempted to do. Trump has falsely claimed he won the state, while asking courts to throw out ballots and halt the certification of election results.
The Republican-led legislature could invoke a federal statute that says if, on Election Day, voters have “failed to make a choice” about which electors they want, state lawmakers can decide how the electors should be appointed, said Derek Muller, a law professor at the University of Iowa.
John Fortier, the director of governmental studies at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said while some argue legislators must follow state code on appointing electors unless they agree to change the law, other experts point to the U.S. Constitution, which says legislatures decide how electors are appointed regardless of what state law says. In this reading, the General Assembly could appoint electors themselves, regardless of the election results.
Amel Ahmed, an associate political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said under that theory, legislators could claim there was a problem with the ballots counted after Election Day and use the results that came in on Nov. 3 — when Trump was ahead in Pennsylvania — to appoint Trump’s electors.
Still, the three scholars Spotlight PA and Votebeat spoke with agreed such a scenario was very unlikely.
“I don’t think this is going to happen,” Fortier said. “I think it would be extraordinary for it to happen.”
In the weeks leading up to the election, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) said the General Assembly would follow the law, and he’d had no contact with the Trump campaign “or others” about changing the way electors are appointed.
Last week during a call with reporters, Corman said he wanted to “stay with the tradition” of the popular vote winner getting the electors.
“I don’t like to get into hypotheticals, because we’re far away from the legislature having any involvement. Let’s go through the process,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any useful discussion of electors. It’s certainly not our role to do this.”
But over the past few days, state Republicans have called for an investigation into Pennsylvania’s election, saying while they didn’t “have any evidence of misdoing,” guidance from the Department of State and court rulings had created “chaos and uncertainty.”
Where and when do electors meet to cast their votes?
In Pennsylvania, they’ll meet in the state’s capital, Harrisburg, at noon on Dec. 14 to cast their votes for president and vice president. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, each elector votes on their own ballot and signs it, and copies of those ballots go to the president of the U.S. Senate — Vice President Mike Pence — the Pennsylvania secretary of state, the national archivist, and the presiding federal district judge in Harrisburg.
The electors will be paid, per state code, $3 each day spent traveling to or from the Harrisburg meeting and each day spent at the meeting, and they’ll be reimbursed for mileage.
What happens between now and when electors meet in Harrisburg?
Governors must prepare a Certificate of Ascertainment for the National Archives and Records Administration (here’s Pennsylvania’s from 2016) with the names of appointed electors and the number of votes cast for each after Boockvar certifies the election results by Nov. 23.
Any conflicts or challenges as to the appointment of electors must be resolved by Dec. 8.
Is the electoral college meeting in Harrisburg public?
Wanda Murren, a spokesperson for the Department of State, said in an email the department was “still working out details on conducting the event while adhering to safety protocols related to the COVID pandemic.”
Muller said traditionally, the meeting of electors is a small, quiet, formal ceremony inside one of the Capitol’s chambers.
Can appointed electors cast a vote for someone other than Biden in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania state code doesn’t say anything about so-called “faithless electors,” or electors who cast a vote for a candidate other than the one who won the state popular vote. There’s no federal or constitutional provision requiring electors to cast a vote for the winning party, either.
Over the years, there have been a few instances in other states where electors cast votes for candidates that differed from who voters in their state had selected — there were seven such faithless electors in 2016.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that under the Constitution, states do have the ability to bind presidential electors to pledged candidates. Pennsylvania lawmakers have not made that change.
“This is among the many things which the General Assembly could choose to fix if they want to make our election system more reliable and more fair,” said Adam Bonin, a Philadelphia-based Democratic election lawyer.
Who are the electors?
They are state and local elected officials, political party leaders, and others who traditionally have strong connections to the party. Muller said they tend to be loyal, partisan, and faithful to the party, and “will reliably transfer the preferences of voters.”
Here are Pennsylvania’s 20 Democrats who will serve as electors for Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris:
Nina Ahmad, Philadelphia
Former Philadelphia deputy mayor; defeated 2020 Democratic candidate for auditor general
Val Arkoosh, Montgomery County
Montgomery County Board of Commissioners chair
Cindy Bass, Philadelphia
Philadelphia City Council member
Rick Bloomingdale*, Dauphin County
Pennsylvania AFL-CIO president
Ryan Boyer, Delaware County
Laborers District Council of the Metropolitan Area of Philadelphia and Vicinity business manager
Paige Gebhardt Cognetti, Lackawanna County
Daisy Cruz, Philadelphia
32BJ SEIU Mid-Atlantic District leader
Kathy Dahlkemper*, Erie County
Erie County executive
Janet Diaz, Lancaster County
Lancaster City Council member; defeated 2020 Democratic candidate for state Senate
Virginia McGregor*, Lackawanna County
Democratic National Committee deputy national finance chair
Charles Hadley, Philadelphia
Former Democratic candidate for state House
Jordan Harris, Philadelphia
Malcolm Kenyatta*, Philadelphia
Gerald Lawrence, Delaware County
Delaware County Board of Elections chair
Clifford Levine*, Allegheny County
Nancy Mills, Allegheny County
Pennsylvania Democratic Party chairwoman
Marian Moskowitz, Chester County
Chester County commissioner
Josh Shapiro, Montgomery County
Pennsylvania attorney general
Sharif Street*, Philadelphia
Connie Williams*, Delaware County
Former state senator
Here are Pennsylvania’s 20 Republicans who would have been appointed electors for Trump and Pence:
Robert “Bob” Asher*, Montgomery County
Former state and Montgomery County GOP chairman
Bill Bachenberg, Lehigh County
NRA board member, founder of nonprofit Camp Freedom, owner of Lehigh Valley Sporting Clays
Lou Barletta, Luzerne County
Former Republican congressman
Theodore “Ted” Christian*, Bucks County
Former Trump campaign Pennsylvania director
Chuck Coccodrilli, Lackawanna County
Pennsylvania Great Frontier PAC board member
Bernadette Comfort, Lehigh County
Republican Party of Pennsylvania vice chairwoman
Sam DeMarco III, Allegheny County
Allegheny County Council member
Marcela Diaz-Myers, Dauphin County
PA GOP Hispanic Advisory Council chair
Josephine Ferro, Monroe County
Pennsylvania Federation of Republican Woman president, former Monroe County Republican Committee chair
Robert Gleason*, Cambria County
Former Republican Party of Pennsylvania chairman
Ash Khare*, Warren County
Former Northwest Caucus State GOP chairman
Thomas Marino, Lycoming County
Former Republican congressman
Lisa Patton, Cumberland County
Trump campaign Pennsylvania state events director
Patricia “Pat” Poprik*, Bucks County
Bucks County Republican Committee chair
Andy Reilly, Delaware County
Republican Party of Pennsylvania secretary
Lance Stange, Lackawanna County
Lackawanna County Republican Party chair
Lawrence Tabas*, Philadelphia
Republican Party of Pennsylvania chairman, election lawyer
Christine Toretti*, Indiana County
Pennsylvania Women for Trump chair
Calvin Tucker, Philadelphia
Trump campaign director of engagement and advancement
Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh*, Delaware County
Former Chester County sheriff
*Was also an elector in 2016.
Tom Lisi of Votebeat for Spotlight PA contributed reporting.
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