In Wisconsin and across the country, 538 members of the Electoral College met on December 14 to cast their votes for president — officially awarding President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris their 306 earned electoral college votes.

But many of those electors, in battleground states such as Wisconsin, met under increased security and amid unprecedented chaos and confusion after efforts from President Donald Trump and his Republican allies to sow doubt on the election results.

The Electoral College vote marked the end of Trump’s efforts to use the courts to overturn the election, with the Wisconsin Supreme Court voting 4-3 to reject the president’s claim that hundreds of thousands of ballots cast in Dane and Milwaukee counties were cast illegally.

As Wisconsin’s 10 electors arrived at the State Capitol, they were escorted by Madison and Capitol police officers through a “secret entrance” and down tunnels into the building, according to elector Khary Penebaker.

“No matter what shenanigans or antics the opposition throws at us, we were going to exercise our constitutional responsibility,” Penebaker said.

Ultimately the 10 electors, chosen ahead of the election by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, were able to unanimously cast their votes for Biden and Harris.

“Now more than ever, our country deserves leaders who will put people first and return kindness, empathy, and compassion back to the White House,” Gov. Tony Evers, one of the electors, said in a statement. “That’s why today we were proud to vote unanimously to assign Wisconsin’s 10 electoral college votes to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.”

Penebaker, treasurer of the Democratic National Committee’s Black Caucus, said he was proud to cast a vote for the nation’s first Black female Vice President and humbled by the importance of the event — especially in an election year so mired by efforts to corrupt the system.

“It’s an honor by itself but when you add all that extra to it, there’s so much more weight to it now,” he said. “There’s still a dark cloud around us because of Trump and his enablers.”

When the state’s electors began their meeting, the Wisconsin Supreme Court had already affirmed Biden as the winner of the election, but the fact that three justices were able to be convinced to vote in favor of tossing out so many votes hung over them.

“We went into the meeting knowing the case had been decided and ruled the right way,” Penebaker said. “But the fact there were still three judges who thought it was right to thwart the voice of the people is very disheartening. I’m grateful Justice Hagedorn joined with the other three justices in deciding the right way.”

The Supreme Court decision, for Penebaker, is one more sign of trouble for a country that is in need of some normalcy. The vote of three Supreme Court justices, the investigation and hearing of Wisconsin’s legislative Republicans and the actions of Republican voters on the streets throughout the year show that some people are willing to toss American values to the side for the sake of partisan warfare.

“Ultimately there are more of us that want to do the right thing despite our party affiliation than those who don’t,” Penebaker said. “Outside court cases, you have people clamoring for a civil war. People in Michigan and Wisconsin who were taking their guns and swastikas and ‘stars and bars’ flags, forgetting which side of that fight we were on in the North. It’s staggering people would support something so antithetical to being American.”

For Penebaker and elector Mary Arnold, the increased attention on what in the past has been merely a formality may serve to focus people on the necessity of protecting America’s democratic systems.

“In some ways the focus probably helped to highlight the importance of our democracy,” Arnold, chair of the Columbia County Democratic Party, said. “In the room where we met to cast our vote was written ‘The will of the people is the law of the land.’”

But the fact that electors across the state were able to meet and cast 306 votes for Biden and Harris is a good sign, according to Penebaker, because the extraordinary efforts of Republican attorneys general, legislators and congresspeople weren’t enough.

“But it’s a testament that our institutions held strong,” he said. “It shows there are still more of us who appreciate what it means to be a part of this experiment in democracy.”

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