“I feel like he’s unfit to be president, and I’m trying to persuade the electors of that,” explained Greges, 35. “I’m not optimistic.”
At least 200 activists had gathered in Harrisburg with the same message, and the same nervous pessimism. The weather was slightly below freezing, and ice sheets covered some of the capitol complex’s walkways. But for hours, the protesters tried out slogans, compared signs – many with anti-Vladimir Putin themes – and consoled themselves with the thought that they had done all they could to absolve themselves of blame for the presidential election result.
“I feel the fate of our nation is at stake here,” said Ray-Ellen Kavey, 68, who’d volunteered for “many hours” from her home state of New York. “I think the Constitution charges the electors with preventing exactly what is happening here – a hostile takeover of our government by a bigot who has been supported by Russia. I know nothing will come of this, but my conscience won’t let me do any less.”
Several other protesters had come in from outside Pennsylvania. Kai Newkirk, whose Democracy Spring group had helped organize the protests in state capitols, had come to Harrisburg to protest and observe. Pennsylvania, the biggest fallen brick in the Democrats' 24-year “blue wall” of Rust Belt states, was also the closest to the deep blue northeastern states where Trump had lost handily.
Trump supporters, who had nothing to protest, were in short supply. Two stood to the side of the rally, doing TV interviews, but their electors were already inside, ready to vote for Trump in the House. Gov. Tom Wolf (D), who had campaigned for Hillary Clinton, opened the electoral college vote by contradicting the arguments of the protesters.
“This is a tradition that is at the heart of our democracy – the selection of a president,” he said. “It’s a process of peaceful transition.”
Just 100 noisy yards away, protesters were paying scant attention. There was little election night-style checking of phones for results. There was no audio feed of the somber vote. Instead, there were speeches and songs, including a reading from Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist No. 68, and a shanty about how “fascist ideas will always die.”
By 1 p.m., the vote was basically over. Electors, who’d received Christmas cards from some of the protesters, had voted “their conscience” – for Trump. They slipped out as protesters exchanged information and talked about their next resistance.
"No matter how many electors defect from Trump, the fact that there have been unprecedented protests at every state capitol for the first time ever will send the message that Trump has no mandate for his extreme agenda, and this deeply undemocratic result is highly questionable," Newkirk said. "Everybody in America should know that Trump lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes. And they should know that he won in the closest states because of massive voter suppression. That will be talked about more after today."