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Athens’ New DA, Deborah Gonzalez, Is One of Georgia’s 16 Biden Electors

Deborah Gonzalez speaks at a rally for Senate candidate Jon Ossoff in October.

Two weeks after winning the runoff election for district attorney of the Western Judicial Circuit, former state Rep. Deborah Gonzalez will cast one of Georgia’s 16 electoral votes for Joe Biden, wrapping up the 2020 presidential election.

Gonzalez will travel to the Georgia State Capitol on Dec. 14, where she’ll cast and sign her ballot for Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris. On Jan. 6, Congress will meet to count the electoral votes from every state before Inauguration Day on Jan. 20. 

Each state’s number of Electoral College votes is based on its number of seats in the U.S. House and Senate. The nomination process varies by state, but in Georgia, the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties select 16 electors each to represent their respective parties. The official electors are then chosen from the party of the candidate who wins the state’s popular vote. In a sense, Georgia citizens who voted for Biden and Harris really voted for Gonzalez and her 15 fellow Democratic electors.

With public opinion mixed on the role of the Electoral College in deciding presidential victories, many states have adopted laws to ensure their electors vote in accordance with the state’s popular vote. Considering that no such law exists in Georgia, its electors could technically vote for whomever they wish to hold the presidency. But political parties have an incentive to choose loyal electors, making it unusual for an elector to break with their party. 

“It’s quite a vote of confidence that [the party] believes that I will uphold our democratic values and that they believe I’m a true Democrat,” says Gonzalez, who was tapped by the Democratic Party of Georgia in mid-February.

Gonzalez says she believes that in other states Democratic and Republican electors will remain loyal to their parties’ candidates. Even if the electors strongly dislike their party’s candidate, it may hurt them politically to vote for someone else, she says. 

After two recounts, Biden won 49.5% of the vote in Georgia to President Donald Trump’s 49.3%—the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has won Georgia since Bill Clinton in 1992. Nationally, Biden has 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232.

Despite not offering substantial evidence, Trump’s campaign continues to take accusations of voter fraud to court. Any disputes, including state recounts and court contests, must be resolved by the “safe harbor” deadline on Dec. 8. Gonzalez says she won’t entertain a Trump win, as the people voiced their preference for a new president in a legitimate election.

Gonzalez says she’s looking forward to participating in the historic process, but she generally believes that the national popular vote should decide presidential elections, rather than the Electoral College. In two out of the past six elections, the candidate who lost the popular vote—George W. Bush in 2000 and Trump in 2016—became president anyway. 

“It’s not a true representation of what the majority of the people want,” Gonzalez says. “If we’re talking about democracy and ‘one person equals one vote,’ then I think we have to rethink these mechanisms for us to elect our leaders if they’re supposed to be truly representative of the will of the people.”

To abolish or significantly reform the Electoral College, two-thirds of both chambers of Congress would need to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, with three-fourths of all state legislatures ratifying it. The states could also petition Congress to hold a constitutional convention to propose an amendment, but this process has never occurred.

In its two senatorial runoff elections on Jan. 5, Georgia voters will ultimately decide which party controls the U.S. Senate. If Democrats Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff defeat their Republican opponents, Gonzalez says, the shift in party control could increase the likelihood of a change to the Electoral College.

Georgia’s 15 other Biden electors are 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, state Sens. Gloria Butler of Stone Mountain and Steve Henson of Tucker, Rome Commissioner Wendy Davis, party activists Bobby Fuse of Americus, Fenika Miller of Macon and Ben Myers, Rachel Paule and Sachin Varghese of Atlanta; Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, state Reps. Pedro Marin of Duluth, Calvin Smyre of Columbus and Bob Trammell of Luthersville; Democratic Party of Georgia Chairwoman Nikema Williams, who was recently elected to the late John Lewis’ Atlanta congressional seat; and former Atlanta City Council member Cathy Woolard.