Ten Minnesotans are among the 538 Americans who will gather in state capitols around the nation on Monday to officially elect the next president.
A Duluth veteran, a former Mayo Clinic doctor and a community organizer for Muslim women are among Minnesota's electors, helping make up a small group that will speak for the state by choosing President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
The Electoral College, that oft-overlooked and frequently maligned U.S. institution, has landed in the spotlight this year as President Donald Trump and Republicans seek to overturn Biden's win.
Trump's backers have little recourse in Minnesota, where Biden beat Trump by more than 233,000 votes. That ensured the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's chosen slate of electors gets to vote Monday, many of them Democratic die-hards who have spent decades knocking on doors and stuffing envelopes for their party's picks.
Monday is a moment to be part of U.S. history, several of them said.
Joel Heller plans to leave Duluth at 5 a.m. Monday with his son to cast a ballot for Biden in St. Paul. He hopes it will be turning point for a divided nation.
"There's so much hate out there," Heller said. "My hope is by electing Biden ... there's going to be a chance that we can start healing the animosity."
But, with some Trump supporters riled by the president's unproven, legally unsuccessful claims of voter fraud, Secretary of State Steve Simon said he has been in close touch with Capitol Security about possible disruptions on Monday. One elector declined to be interviewed because, she said, she's worried about threats.
"There's some people who will still persist in believing conspiracies about the election, and they are entitled to those beliefs," Simon said. "But we don't want anyone to act on those beliefs in a disruptive or even violent way."
For Minnesota's 10 electors, Monday's proceedings will be scaled back because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past, electors' families showed up for the vote, and buses of schoolchildren arrived at the Capitol to watch democracy in action.
While the scene will look unusual, the results should be predictable.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in July helped ensure electors don't go off script. The court determined states can pass laws requiring electors to vote for the candidate they said they would support. The Minnesota DFL Party also had electors sign a pledge to support their party's winner.
In 2016, elector Muhammad Abdurrahman voted for Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton. Abdurrahman will get to vote again this year, the only elector participating in two elections in a row. Simon said he doesn't expect anyone to deviate from Biden this time, and if they do he would pull in an alternate as he did in 2016.
Minnesotans pick their party's electors during congressional and state party conventions. Typically they are well-known in DFL or GOP circles, and the role is often viewed as the culmination of years of activism. Nausheena Hussain said at 44, she feels like a very young elector.
The director of the nonprofit Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment, Hussain said she decided to run for a spot — in the age of COVID, that meant filming a couple-minute pitch for the virtual party convention — because she wants Muslim women to see themselves in the process.
"I want our democracy and every aspect of government to reflect the people who live here," Hussain said.
But she said she sees a lot of mystery and confusion around the Electoral College, and she supports changing to a national popular vote for presidential elections. She predicted Minnesota would eventually join 15 other states that have a compact to base their electoral college votes not on which candidate won in their state but on the candidate who won the national popular vote.
For now, the 232-year-old process remains. Participants will gather in cities across the country Monday, bringing hopes for the next administration. Hussain wants Biden to move quickly to repeal the policy that restricts travel from some majority Muslim countries, and to make education more affordable and equitable.
Another elector, semiretired Mayo Clinic doctor Mark Liebow — husband of longtime DFL state Rep. Tina Liebling — has been helping old colleagues during the pandemic by doing some administrative work. He wants Biden and Harris to get the coronavirus under control and improve the country's health care system.
Heller, the Duluth veteran, wants the administration to turn the tide on COVID-19 and rebuild frayed relationships with other countries. But what might excite him most is being part of a historic first.
"On Monday I get to be a part of breaking the ceiling," Heller said of being able to vote for Harris. "I get to give hope to all them young girls."
After he arrives at the Capitol, before he casts one of Minnesota's 10 votes, Heller plans to call his parents, look at a photo of his grandparents and reflect on the next generation.
"When I'm long gone in this world … my son, or if he has kids his kids, or my friends, can always go look," Heller said. "And for one moment in time, I will have a little bit of U.S. history."
Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044