From the elevated Speaker’s Podium in the Minnesota House of Representatives, Secretary of State Steve Simon leaned down toward a clerk. They inaudibly talked through Covid-era masks. She wore bright blue sanitized gloves. As the clerk returned to a desk, the amplified metallic noise of an un-muted microphone reverberated through the stately and nearly empty chamber; a grand space legislators, civics teachers and cynics alike call “The People’s House.”
Secretary Simon activated his podium mic and spoke, “Congressional District Three. Elector Poling. Please read your vote for President of the United Sates.”
Cheryl Poling of Eden Prairie responded, “Joseph R. Biden.”
Simon, “And now please read your vote for the Vice President of the United States.”
Poling, “Kamala Harris.”
Simon: “Thank you.”
Cheryl Poling was among ten electors to cast votes for Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris at the Minnesota Electoral College Assembly on Monday December 14, 2020.
Ms. Poling, a Democrat and Chair of the DFL’s Congressional District 3 Party, was selected during its April Convention to be an elector if the Biden-Harris slate prevailed. That happened with Biden-Harris winning Minnesota’s popular vote 1,717,077 to 1,484,065.
Minnesota has one elector for each of its 8 congressional districts plus 2 state-wide, at-large electors for a total of 10 electors. Had President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence won Minnesota’s popular vote this time around, Poling’s Congressional District 3 Republican Party counterpart and 9 other Republican electors would have attended the December 14th Electoral College Assembly at the State Capitol.
Until this election season, Electoral College proceedings were generally dismissed as ceremonial. They are much more. They are U.S. Constitutional directives for electoral voting, recording, certifying and notifying Congress and other institutions. Certificates of Vote of the December 14 electoral proceedings in the 50 states are sent to Congress where they will be counted on January 6. Although challenges may be made, the Biden-Harris 306 / Trump-Pence 232 electoral vote counts are expected to stand. Our democracy is an indirect democracy.
I interviewed Cheryl Poling by phone the day after the electoral vote in St. Paul and via Facebook Messenger on Saturday December 19th. The southwest suburban mother, political organizer, self-described “U.S. Army brat,” former employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Israel and co-owner with husband Craig of two rescued dogs, was accompanied to Monday’s vote by son, Dr. Bryan Poling. The Eden Prairie dynamo was back in form after two days of elector gravitas as our national political will continues to fracture during a pandemic.
Jeff Strate (EPLN): So, how does one become an elector?
Cheryl Poling: I’m not sure how they do it in the GOP but I do know in the DFL anyone is welcome to run. And there are two ways to be elected. You are elected through your congressional district or you are elected at large for the State. Each congressional district, there are eight of them, elects one elector and one alternate of an opposite gender. And then statewide they elect two electors, each with an alternate. I ran in the congressional district. You begin at caucuses and go through your convention and you just choose to run. There’s a little application and a little video [prompted by the pandemic]to do and for DFL members to consider. And then the top vote getter is your elector. And the second vote getter of the opposite gender is your alternate. That’s how I won.
EPLN: What went on during the morning of Monday’s vote?
POLING: We [electors]actually have a constitutional requirement to be there on Sunday. Back in the 1880s, when it took longer to get to St. Paul, electors were required to show up the day before, before noon, and present themselves to the Governor to prove that they were there to fulfill their duty. This year, we electors and our alternates had to show up on Sunday to meet with the Secretary of State’s office and a representative of the Governor to sign us in and verify that we were actually there. Then yesterday [Monday], we went to the Governor’s office, signed in, and then walked to the House of Representatives. And that’s where we were assigned our seats and begin the process of casting our votes and signing the ballots. It was a two day process. This was the forty first time that the Electoral College has met in Minnesota.
EPLN: So you cast your votes in the House Chamber rather than the Governor’s Office?
POLING: Yes. The House Chamber was chosen because it’s the largest space to socially distance for the electors and State officials including Data Practices Compliance Officer BiBi Black and Deputy Secretary of State for Elections David Maeda to administer the casting and certifying of electoral votes.
There were very strict safety protocols. Everyone had to be at least two rows away from the next person and wear a mask at all times. Electors and alternates were each permitted to invite one guest. Guests, including my grown-up son Bryan, were assigned to places in the balcony overlooking the House floor. The only exception was for Congressional District 8 elector Joel Heller’s 13-year old son Noah. Noah sat near his father on the floor.
EPLN: How did you enter the Capitol building?
POLING: Electors were escorted separately from their guests. We walked from the Senate Office Building to the Capitol through the pedestrian tunnel under University Avenue because construction work is going on in the front. The restored Capitol is so beautiful. It’s just stunning. I just have to say that it truly is just a beautiful place now.
EPLN: What did Secretary of State Steve Simon say to the electors before the vote?
POLING: Steve talked about the historic nature of the Electoral College. The fact that everything is written into law of what has to be required and exactly each step we would be performing and the history of why we were doing the things that we were doing. … It was a feeling of importance and respect for the process and the law as it was written and the fact that we were doing something that had been done multiple times, 41 times exactly, in fulfilling our duty. It wasn’t done frivolously.
EPLN: Did you get emotional?
POLING: Uhm, I don’t know that I would say it was emotional. It was … It was awe inspiring. But you had this sense of being on the edge of knowing that this was historic. You knew the importance and you didn’t want to miss any of it so you were hyper aware? I don’t believe that I was emotional. I don’t feel that I was emotional until after it was over. Then it sort of hits you, what you had just done. The whole time, you were riveted to every word that Steve Simon said and everything that you were being asked to do in the careful, step-be-step process. It was just a sense of feeling: the importance of history being made.
EPLN: Can you share any more thoughts about being an elector?
POLLING: I felt it was an immense honor and I was very, very heartened and thankful, as well as grateful to [my DFL district colleagues]for electing me the position…. I hope that other people have the opportunity to do it in the future …. You have this total sense of comfort that your vote would be respected.
Jeff Strate (EPLN): Cheryl, thank you very much.
For the third general election in a row, Minnesota has led the nation in the percentage of eligible voter turnout – 79.96%. “Minnesotans love to vote,” said Secretary of State Steve Simon in a post-election statement, “we’re good at it, we care about it, we lean into it.”
That’s why Eden Prairie’s Cheryl Poling has been glowing with pride from November’s vote to December’s electoral vote.
Photo Credits from the top: 1) MN Secretary of State, 2) Dr. Bryan Poling, 3) Dr. Bryan Poling, 4) State Senator Steve Cwodzinski.