Lazar Palnick (center) counts ballots on December 15, 2008, at Pennsylvania’s 56th electoral college after Barack Obama was elected president. He is holding the ballot box that Pennsylvania has used since 1789. He and the other two tellers are at the capitol in Harrisburg. (AP file photo by Bradley C. Bower)
Anytime Lazar Palnick is going to cast a vote at the Pennsylvania campus of the electoral college, he buys a high-dollar fountain pen for the occasion.
And every time he needs an electoral-college pen, he calls his hometown fountain-pen supplier, Vanness Pens.
The Vanness family has been selling fountain pens in Little Rock since they were invented. Well, since 1938, anyway.
Mr. Palnick, a native son of Little Rock who is a lawyer in Pittsburgh, has been a student of the electoral-college most of his adult life. He has cast electoral college votes for Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama. His collection includes a different fountain pen for each of those elections.
This year he was on Hillary’s slate. “Hillary had submitted my name, together with 19 others,” Mr. Palnick told me in a telephone conversation a couple of weeks ago. “I handled all the legal filings for her campaign. I was one of her authorized representatives.”
During the 2016 election, Mr. Palnick was host to two parties that included the Arkansas Travelers, supporters of Hillary who went door-to-door in Pennsylvania.
The electoral college offers two jobs ~ an elector and a teller, who counts the votes during the ceremony, which in Pennsylvania is held in the old state capitol. Each elector marks his vote on an embossed ballot and deposits it in the same wood ballot box that Pennsylvania has used since 1789.
“I was a teller once for Clinton, and I voted for him in ’96. In 2000, I voted for Gore. In 2004, I voted for Kerry.”
The ceremony is formal and mindful of the electors’ job. The secretary of state provides each elector with two embossed, engraved ballots, one for president and one for vice president.
“They call you up, hand you the ballots, and you take them to your desk,” says Mr. Palnick, who has been involved in the process either as a teller or elector since 1992. “You write the name of your candidate on the ballot” ~ that’s when uses his fountain pen ~ “and then they call your name, and one at a time, we walk forward and hand our ballot to the teller, who is standing there holding the box.
“The teller closes the door. They take the ballot box and go over to the rostrum in the state house of representatives, and count them.”
Except for the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December when electors vote, the ballot box stays in the archives in Harrisburg.
Like electors all over the country, Mr. Palnick is hearing from people who don’t like the president-elect and who want him to vote against him.
But that’s not possible, even if he were so inclined. In Pennsylvania, the Republican beat the Democrat by point-seventy-three percent. That’s less than one percent.
The voters of Pennsylvania didn’t actually vote for a Republican or a Democrat. They voted for a slate of 20 electors ~ Republican or Democrat.
Mr. Palnick, no surprise, is a Democrat. So he doesn’t vote.
“I received all kinds of calls and questions, letters and emails,” Mr. Palnick said. “People have been writing and calling me to change my vote and vote for Hillary. People found my mobile phone number, my home address.
“They somehow believe that electors are picked permanently to be members of the elector college.”
For those inclined to track down an elector, at least one website made the job easier. Politico published a story about Mr. Palnick and his long-time relationship with the Clintons.
Mr. Palnick, who left Arkansas ion 1988, has seen some intense politicking in his electoral college career. “There was a whole lot of hubbub in 2000 when I was an elector for Al Gore,” he said of the election most remembered for hanging chads in Florida.
“I believe the Republican nominees are getting lots of calls,” he says. “Some people have it right, calling Trump nominees. But people are calling old Democratic electors. They don’t know any better. They are telling us, ‘Do the right thing. Change your vote.’
“But I’m not voting.”
But he thought that surely he would be. Mr. Palnick was so confident that he would need a new fountain pen that a month before the election, he put Vanness on the hunt for a hard-to-find Pelikan Majesty 7000.
“I told them that if Hillary won that I was hoping to buy that pen.”
Emphasis on “if.”
“I have never bought one ahead of time,” he said. “I didn’t want to jinx anything.”