Electoral college proceedings. Photo captured from Senate TV.
Electoral college proceedings. Photo captured from Senate TV.

Credible threats shut down everything at the Capitol Monday except the Electoral College, which cast its 16 votes for Joe Biden.

LANSING, Mich.—On an overcast Monday with the forecast threatening snow, the Capitol Building held an immensely significant ceremonial event. Michigan cast its 16 electoral votes for President-elect Joe Biden.

The system triumphed, but the road to this moment was not easy. The tide of political violence has risen all year in Michigan, culminating in the often forgotten members of the Electoral College being courageous for doing something that in any other election would be ordinary.

And that didn’t happen in a vacuum.

Outgoing President Donald Trump has pulled out all the stops in his efforts to delegitimize the electoral process including specific attacks on the vote counting process at the TCF Center in Detroit. The day after the election, his supporters pounded on glass walls demanding to be let into the room where votes were being counted to forcibly stop the counting process. 

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That moment at the beginning of the post-election led to this one, where the Michigan House and Senate offices stand closed, empty, and the Capitol Building itself allows no admittance. 

That decision, said Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clark Lake), was not made out of concerns for protests. Most Saturdays since the election Trump supporters have gathered in the heart of Lansing, chanting “stop the steal,” in an attempt to characterize an election with not a single evidence of widespread fraud as “stolen.” 

Earlier in 2020, protesters stormed the Capitol Building itself, armed with assault rifles, to observe legislative proceedings in violation of quarantine procedure, but not law. Armed protests were expected Monday.

Shirkey said what closed down the Capitol was credible threats of violence. 

While the exact character of these threats remains unknown, reports from legislators indicate that the threats are to the lives and safety of the 16 electors, who meet in the Senate chamber to cast their votes. 

“The meeting of the Electoral College should be a celebration of our democracy but instead has now become a target for threats, intimidation and violence,” tweeted state Rep. Donna Lasinski (D-Scio).

Electors aren’t ordinarily heroic public servants risking their lives for democracy. They aren’t ordinarily people who get attention. In most states their function is entirely ceremonial, as a majority of states forbid “faithless” electors, those being members of the electoral college that do not follow the vote of their state. But this year things have gotten tense.

READ MORE: An Inside Look at What Actually Happened at Detroit’s TCF Ballot Counting Center

Armed protesters harassed Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, sent threats to Republican legislators who refused Trump’s call to invalidate the vote, and intended to abduct and murder Gov. Gretchen Whitmer before the election to impact its outcome. 

And the effort to delegitimize the election that motivates and emboldens that violence proceeded into the largely uncharted and legally wild attempt the week before the electors met to force Michigan, among other states, to set aside their election results and appoint loyalist Trump electors on orders of the US Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, for its part, soundly rejected the Texas-led effort. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel strongly agreed with the decision, explaining to the Detroit Free Press that it would have effectively been the end of American democracy. 

As, she explained, ultimately any attempt to stop the inauguration of a lawfully elected president would be if it succeeded. Including threatening the lives of 16 people in a room in Lansing. 

But Nessel doubts that this stops when the work of those 16 people is done, either. 

“I can’t tell you that this is over, because I do think that Donald Trump and his supporters and his enablers and his allies will do anything and everything they can possibly think of to continue to undermine this election,” she told the Free Press. “Not necessarily because they think it will be successful as an effort, but because it will continue to undermine the future presidency of Joe Biden and continue to endear people to Donald Trump, and maybe to continue to allow him to raise money off of this process.”

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And that carries with it an ominous specter. Calls to return to normal characterized the winning message of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, but the system that ensures and constructs that normalcy was so close to buckling in 2020 that electors, chosen to carry out a ceremonial role, had to endure threats to their lives and safety. The election itself didn’t end the existential threat democracy faces, it merely endured it.

Despite all the legal challenges, threats of violence, plans of violence, disruption, and general disorder created by Trump supporters over the past month, however, as it did with the Board of Canvassers before, the process succeeded. The democratic process, the will of the people, endured. 

Thanks to 16 people who really, really did not sign up for this.