The 538 members of the Electoral College will gather Dec. 14 to cast their votes to make Joe Biden president of the United States. In Atlanta, Cathy Woolard will be one of them.
Woolard is best known as a former Atlanta City Council president and 2017 mayoral candidate, and earlier this year appeared in Brookhaven on behalf of Georgia Equality to successfully lobby for a nondiscrimination ordinance protecting LGBTQ people. Now she’s serving as one of Georgia’s presidential electors.
She is among 16 Democratic Party electors; the Libertarian and Republican parties had slates of electors ready to vote, too, if their candidates had prevailed in Georgia. Woolard said in a recent interview that this is her first time serving as an elector.
“What’s great is, you get picked, but you don’t know if you’re actually going to be one until your candidate wins,” she said. “So not only am I an elector, but my candidate won, so I get to do the job.”
Not that Woolard is a fan of the Electoral College. The chaotic battle over the Nov. 3 election results this year has renewed criticisms of the institution as outdated and anti-democratic. Its indirect method of electing the president has resulted in the popular-vote loser taking office — including President Trump in 2016.
“I support abolishing the Electoral College, too,” said Woolard. “I think all too often the popular vote has been overturned by the Electoral College and that doesn’t seem right to me. But until that happens, I am happy to participate.”
Under the U.S. Constitution, each state selects a number of electors equal to the number of its representatives and senators in the U.S. Congress. In Georgia, each political party nominates a slate of potential electors, who then become official if their candidate wins. This year, the Democratic slate includes such big political names as former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and Nikema Williams, the state party chair and U.S. representative-elect in the 5th Congressional District, which includes part of Brookhaven and Buckhead.
Woolard said she was asked by the party to become an elector and doesn’t know why, aside from her longtime Democratic activism. “So I’m assuming they’re assuming I would be somebody they could count on to actually cast the vote, which in this day and age appears to be something that is a question,” she said with a laugh.
There has been no word of a dress code or other rules or traditions for the voting, Woolard said. “I will be treating this with the gravity and formality that I think it deserves and I assume others will as well,” she said.
The electors will meet in person at noon on Dec. 14 at the Georgia State Capitol, where they will cast ballots for Biden as president and Kamala Harris as vice president. A limited number of journalists will be present and the vote will be live-streamed by Georgia Public Broadcasting.
The vote will come as part of an election that has spawned seemingly endless challenges from Trump and his camp that have sometimes descended into conspiracy theory and threats of violence. Gabriel Sterling, a Georgia Secretary of State’s office voting official and former Sandy Springs City Council member, is among those who publicly denounced threats.
Woolard said she is unaware of any special security for her or other electors, though due to “security concerns” even they were not told of the voting location prior to its Dec. 11 announcement. “I don’t [have security] unless they haven’t told me about it,” she says, but adds that the political mood is worrying.
“It’s a scary time to be somebody doing something in the public realm,” Woolard said. She called much of the reaction to the Nov. 3 election “really scary and disappointing,” including the “disruption and the disinformation and the threats and the crazy lawsuit filings … I’m really concerned about the future of our democracy if people can’t accept the results of elections and not try to alter and change the rules while things are in process.”
“We just need to have a process where everybody gets treated equally, we all get equal access to voting, and then we respect the outcomes when that occurs,” she said.
As for the historic win for her party, Woolard said she was not surprised to see a Democratic president win Georgia, but thought it would be 2022 — the next gubernatorial election — when the state might flip blue. “This is probably one election cycle sooner than people thought and I think it is most likely because Donald Trump has been so incredibly offensive and destabilizing that he sort of pushed the timeline on that,” she said.
After the presidential election finally crawls to the finish line, big-time voting in Georgia isn’t over. “Georgia’s going to be the center of the action now” for years to come, Woolard said. First comes the Jan. 5 runoff elections for the state’s two U.S. Senate seats, which could determine partisan control of Congress. Next fall comes city elections that will put Atlanta’s mayor and City Council offices on the ballot. Then 2022 arrives with the gubernatorial race and one of the U.S. Senate seats on the ballot once more.
As for those city elections next year, might Woolard switch from elector to electee and make another run at the Mayor’s Office? “It’s always a thought, but I don’t have any plans at the moment,” she said.