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As Viruses Infect Public & Body Politic, Electoral College Goes to School…

Electoral College Mass 2020

Sec. Galvin swears in the Electors. (WMP&I(

BOSTON—In any other year, the voting of the Electoral College in Massachusetts would be a ho-hum occasion. With no question of the commonwealth’s presidential result outside the darkest corners of the Internet, the vote was still not dramatic. But with Donald Trump insisting it is not over, this almost mechanical quadrennial happening here has taken on additional resonance. Plus there is a pandemic, afoot.

This year’s event was a stripped down affair. In another time, even in 2016, when the electors, cast their votes for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, onlookers would have packed the House chamber. Despite surging coronavirus case, Boston itself feels emptyish if not abandoned. State House offices are closed and dark. While formal sessions on Mondays would be rare even in non-pandemic times, the building would be teeming with staff. Instead, it has an air of suspended animation.

While the pandemic haunted the process, speakers mand more direct references to Trump’s attempts to undermine the vote. In concluding the event, Secretary of State Bill Galvin, the state’s chief elections officer, referred to the “fragility of democracy,” even amid record turnout in Massachusetts.

“I think the activities you have seen over the last few weeks speak to the testing of our democracy, the testing of our system,” he said. Though he then turned to the electors and observed their role in upholding the election.

“With your help today, we will pass the test,” Galvin continued.

While the Electoral College’s vote nationwide occurred without incident, there was unease. Michigan shut down its legislative buildings amid threats to electors. One Republican state rep seemingly endorsed violence and earned a rebuke from his party.

Trump’s failure to concede has stoked rage among too many of his supporters, particularly in the states where the math is meanest to him. Michigan, along with Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin was among the states Trump and his allies had sought to have wiped off the electoral map. The Supreme Court succinctly and implicitly told him and the other plaintiffs where to put their grievances.

In a speech after Electoral College voting concluded nationwide, Biden explicitly called out Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.

In Massachusetts, the situation was not as extreme. The State House had already closed to visitors after COVID-19 took up residence in America. Though security at Beacon Hill was on alert, those with reason to attend encountered no hassles.

The commonwealth’s 11 electors voted for President-elect Joseph Biden and Vice-president-elect Kamala Harris. Galvin, who presided over the ceremony, had to oversee the selection of a new elector after Ronald Valerio of Auburn died. Other than that, nothing was amiss.

The spare Electoral College ceremony nevertheless included its tradition and flourishes. Secretary Galvin opened the proceedings and presided over the election of the college’s president. After renowned Westborough activist Kate Donaghue was elected, she took over presiding over the election of other officer and the nomination itself.

Before he did, the electors went about replacing Valerio. Both Galvin and Donaghue took time to remember Valerio’s activism.

In that spirit, Donaghue announced, “I am casting my vote for all the people who volunteered for this campaign.”

Donaghue presiding over the Electoral College. (WMP&I)

Electors selected Lesley Rebecca Phillips to fill Valerio’s space.

The electors had spread out among the divisions of the House floor, some sitting in near isolation. The state Democratic party had chosen them earlier in the year, with the guidance of the Biden campaign. Like all states, Massachusetts has one elector for each of its members in the House and Senate. That translates to 11 electors.

Two electors were from and/or had ties to the 413. Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle hails from the First District, which includes her city, Berkshire County and the Greater Springfield area. One of the at-large electors was former Springfield mayor Robert Markel. Now a Boston resident, Markel’s relationship with Biden is personal, dating to their youths.

The other electors, besides Donahuge and Phillips, were Joseph Kelly, Thomas Larkin, Linda Monteiro, Jay Manuel Rivera, Norma Shulman, Teresa Walsh and Wayne Yeh.

The outcome of the Electoral College vote here was no surprise. However, in speeches to the depopulated chamber, many paid tribute to Biden, Harris and the history underpinning their election.

“He sees me and respects me,” said Monteiro, who lives in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood.

Rivera is an officer in the Young Democrats of Massachusetts from Lawrence. He noted that he was Massachusetts’s first Latino elector. He also observed that he was an LGBTQ elector for the commonwealth.

“It is also a history making moment here in Massachusetts,” as well, he said.

Men have been presidents and vice-presidents. But no woman has been either until now… (via wikipedia)

But in the history department, the most prominent fact was Harris’ election as vice-president. The California Democrat will become the nation’s first women to serve as vice-president as well as the first Black woman and the first Asian woman.

Shulman, an activist from Framingham, observed that Harris’ election came the same year as the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The amendment guarantees women the right to vote.

Most electors, as they announced their votes for Harris, either explicitly or implicitly acknowledged the feat of history Harris had achieved.

After the vote while speaking to the press, LaChapelle noted she brought mementos that reminded her of the achievements of women in her own family. “I kept pinching my grandmother’s nursing cap that I’m wearing,” she said referring to a pendant. Her grandmother was a school nurse.

Monteiro, remarking on the record turnout, also underscored the stakes of the election. “This was a critical election, I think it was critical for us to become electors,” she said. “Despite COVID, I was going to come out and cast my ballot for Joseph R. Biden and Kamala Harris.”

Nicole LaChapelle

Mayor & Elector Nicole LaChapelle moments after the Electoral College adjourned. (WMP&I)

Still, it was unusual. Normally, friends and family to nothing of political hangers-on would pack the floor and galleries of the House chamber. Only the acoustics, not the din of chattering masses, competed with electors as they spoke. This year was truly different. However, LaChapelle pointed out the history and power was still there along with the personal stories and meaning underpinning her fellow electors’ mission.

“I’ll just go back to, I think it’s extremely American,” she said. “We don’t stop and we haven’t, and if we did ever stop, then we wouldn’t be the country that we are and the state we are.”

“You know what, mail in your ballot, but we’re not mailing in the Electoral College in Massachusetts,” LaChapelle added.