Gruters, Ziegler to Stay True in Electoral Vote

Politics

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY MONDAY BUSINESS EDITION MONDAY DEC 19, 2016

After perhaps the most divisive presidential campaign in modern history, an unusual amount attention has been paid to the normally routine vote of the electoral college. But after these decisive votes for president get cast, two electors living in the Gulf Coast hope the noise around this process can subside. 

Joe Gruters and Christian Ziegler, respectively the chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota and Republican state committeeman for Sarasota County, will be among 29 Florida electors casting their votes today on the Florida Senate floor in Tallahassee. The votes are among 538 being cast nationwide. These votes, guided by statewide elections for president in November, will actually choose the next president. If electors stay true to home state wishes, that means Donald Trump will win the vote, but a nationwide movement asking electors to become “faithless” and violate typical protocol has left electors awash in electronic and physical communications. “I honestly didn't expect the flood of communications from the losing side, but I do realize that it's part of the job," says Ziegler, who has received at least 8,000 emails and over 500 letters asking him to change his vote. The mailed letters are particularly difficult to read because the ink was smudged from what looks like liberal tears."

In the final days before the election, the US Postal Service brought bins full of letters to the two mens’ homes. Gruters estimates about 125,000 emails have come in the last month, and he gets about 500 pieces of physical mail a day. “It’s funny because now the Trump people have decided to send stuff out too, to try and counter the negative stuff,” Gruters says. “I called them up and said, 'Please don't send more stuff.' That is not necessarily what we need.” 

Pressure to vote differently than expected has been especially high this year, in part because for the second time in five elections the expected winner of the electoral vote lost the popular vote; Democrat Hillary Clinton won the popular by about 2.8 million votes thanks to popularity on the West Coast. Most states, including Florida, are winner takes all, so a candidate gets all electoral votes regardless if they win by a small margin (Trump won Florida’s 29 votes with 49 percent of the popular vote to Clinton’s 48 percent) or a large one (Clinton took California’s 55 votes with 61 percent of the popular vote to Trump’s 34 percent). A number of organizations have led letter campaigns to electors as a result. “The Constitution empowers Electors to exercise judgment and choice,” reads a letter published by the Democracy and Progress PAC. “If your role were only ceremonial, our Founders would not have required the states to elect you or that you cast ballots by your own hand.”

Neither Ziegler nor Gruters seem likely to sway. Both vocally supported Trump in the campaign; Gruters served as co-chair of Trump’s Florida operation. But even if they did, Florida’s electors are more bound to hold to the state vote than those from some other states. Should a Florida elector cast a vote today for someone besides Trump, they will be pulled from the Senate floor immediately and be replaced by an alternate who will vote for Trump instead. As a result, Florida Democratic leaders haven’t been that vocal about the process. “The most likely outcome Monday is that the Electoral College vote goes exactly as planned and Donald Trump will become the next president of the United States,” says JoAnne DeVries, newly-elected Sarasota Democratic Party chair. “I fully expect the 29 Florida presidential electors chosen by state party leaders to vote for Trump.” 

Gruters and Ziegler each say they think all electors have an obligation to vote as directed by voters in their home state. But they also both say the dissenters have the right to lobby electors to act differently. “Every American has a right to have their voice heard as long as it's done in a non-threatening manner,” Ziegler says.

Photo courtesy Christian Ziegler: A bin of letters petitioning Ziegler to vote against Donald Trump at the electoral college vote today.

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