Trump’s electors endure intense lobbying for vote shift

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Following the Nov. 8 general election, Wyckham Seelig received dozens of letters from voters around the country asking him not to cast his vote as one of Michigan’s 16 electors for President-elect Donald Trump.

Then the U.S. Postal Service started delivering the letters in large trays — the kind large businesses use to process hundreds of pieces of mail.

“I’m starting to get cardboard trays full of letters asking me not to vote for the person the people of the state of Michigan chose,” said Seelig, a 73-year-old retired engineer from Lodi Township near Ann Arbor.

Seelig is the presidential elector for Trump from the 7th Congressional District. He and 15 other Michiganians will travel to Lansing on Monday to cast their votes for the 45th president in the Electoral College, finalizing Trump’s narrow victory in Michigan that helped him capture the White House.

The formal vote is scheduled for 2 p.m. in the Michigan Senate’s chamber in the state Capitol.

Like the lengthy and tumultuous campaign that preceded Trump’s victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton, the post-election lobbying has been intense for the Republican political activists who are charged with casting Electoral College votes on behalf of the 4.8 million Michiganians who voted.

Liberal groups and some Democratic activists are planning a protest Monday morning at the Capitol before the electors and Michigan Republican leaders arrive.

The groups want electors to “follow the will of the people” and refuse to vote for Trump because he lost the nationwide popular vote to Clinton by 2.8 million votes, said Kaitlin Sweeney, spokeswoman for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is helping organize protests in all 50 state capitals, she said.

“We’re expecting a very robust turnout, especially in Michigan,” Sweeney said. “Our goal is … to remind the American public and press that Trump didn’t win the popular vote or a mandate to push his agenda through.”

Electors prepare to vote

Michigan’s 16 electoral votes helped push Trump’s victory in the Electoral College to 306 electoral votes, above the 270 needed to capture the presidency.

Michael Banerian, an elector from Bloomfield Hills and the 9th Congressional District, has found himself defending the Electoral College in recent weeks as a system designed by the nation’s fathers to ensure large states didn’t control the outcome of every election.

“It ensures that states from Wyoming to California have a voice in this process,” Banerian said in an email. “We very deliberately do not have a national popular vote for this reason.”

A handful of electors in other states have threatened to withhold their vote for Trump.

But Michigan has a law that requires electors nominated by their political party to vote for their party’s candidate.

Under the law, Republican electors who refuse or fail to vote for Trump results in “a resignation from the office of elector,” allowing the remaining electors to select a replacement.

Bob LaBrant, a Lansing election law attorney and GOP strategist, said he doubts there will be any defectors on Monday during the Electoral College vote.

“The people who get appointed to this positions are usually the most rock-ribbed Republicans and rock-ribbed Democrats,” LaBrant said.

Under the U.S. Constitution, if Trump failed to win the minimum 270 electoral votes during Monday’s vote, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives would get to decide the presidency.

“I don’t see where they’re going to come up with 30-some rogue electors to somehow throw this is into the U.S. House of Representatives,” LaBrant said.

Seelig, who has been involved in Republican politics for 20 years, said he also doubts the protests will cause Trump’s electors in Michigan to change course.

Sweeney said there may be Trump electors who are contemplating a revolt, but haven’t expressed interest publicly to avoid the social media backlash.

“Electors right now are very wary of coming forth because so much negative attention is put on,” she said.

Threatening messages

While the protesters prepare to assemble Monday morning, some electors have reported getting threatening messages in the mail and on social media.

“The threats themselves have generally stopped, with the occasional blog talking about burning me and my family and death wish,” said Banerian, an Oakland University student who has received death threats. One of the threats, which The Detroit News verified, involved a promise to “put a bullet” in Banerian’s mouth.

Banerian, 22, blames the hate mail on Clinton, who famously called half of Trump’s supporters a “basket of deplorables.”

“They not only demonized Republicans, but they dehumanized us — and when you do that, you enable people and allow them to feel justified in these actions,” he said.

Seelig said he can’t count the number of letters he’s received over the past five weeks.

“I’m a little busy getting ready for the holidays, so I haven’t had time to add it up,” he said.

But as of Friday afternoon, Seelig said his email inbox showed 62,625 emails from across the country from individuals asking him to refuse to vote for Trump or try to vote for somebody else.

“It’s not going to change my vote,” he said. “I think he’s a better solution for our country — and there’s a lot of people who feel that way too.”

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood