Joe Biden was formally elected as the next president of the United States by members of the electoral college on Monday, all but ending Donald Trump’s unprecedented bid to subvert the will of millions of Americans and overturn the results of the presidential election.
With California’s 55 electoral votes, Biden crossed the 270-vote threshold needed to win the White House, a milestone that moves him one procedural step closer to his inauguration on 20 January despite Trump’s refusal to accept his defeat and concede the race.
The president-elect addressed the electoral college vote count in a speech to the nation on Monday night, capping a day marked by heightened security, some political theater and an unusual level of public interest in the constitutionally-mandated affair.
“In this battle for the soul of America, democracy prevailed,” Biden said, according to excerpts released by his transition team. “We the people voted. Faith in our institutions held. The integrity of our elections remains intact. And so, now it is time to turn the page. To unite. To heal.”
“Together, vice-president-elect Harris and I earned 306 electoral votes,” Biden said, speaking from Wilmington, Delaware, noting that he has won by the same margin as Donald Trump in 2016.
Trump called that a “landslide”, Biden remarked.
“Nothing, not even a pandemic, or an abuse of power can extinguish that flame” of American democracy, Biden added, highlighting the contributions of election officials in carrying out their duty amid the pandemic, even amid threats and verbal abuse from detractors and Trump supporters. “We owe these public servants a debt of gratitude,” Biden continued. “Our democracy survived because of them.”
Traditionally an afterthought, the meeting of the electoral college has taken on added importance this year because of the president’s sustained efforts to undermine the results of a democratic election. Despite an extraordinarily unsuccessful legal campaign to challenge the results in state and federal court, Trump has continued to claim without evidence that the vote was corrupted by fraud and irregularities.
With an escalation of threats and the promises of protests outside statehouses where the presidential electors gathered, officials took extra steps to ensure the their safety. In Michigan, lawmakers closed the Capitol building to the public as electors voted on Monday, citing credible threats of violence. Wisconsin also closed its Capitol building, ushering in electors through a side entrance for their security. Electors in Arizona met at an “undisclosed location” due to threats there.
Yet the process was relatively seamless. Electors from all 50 states and the nation’s capital cast their ballots, concluding with Hawaii casting the final votes at 7pm ET to award Biden a total of 306 votes. Biden delivered his remarks shortly thereafter.
In his speech, Biden sought to put the election firmly to rest by looking ahead to his presidency and the challenges facing the country.
“As I said through this campaign, I will be a president for all Americans. I will work just as hard for those of you who didn’t vote for me, as I will for those who did,” Biden is expected to say.
He will add: “There is urgent work in front of all of us. Getting the pandemic under control to getting the nation vaccinated against this virus. Delivering immediate economic help so badly needed by so many Americans who are hurting today – and then building our economy back better than ever.”
Election results from November show Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, won 306 electoral college votes, exceeding the 270 needed to win, after four tumultuous years under Trump.
Trump’s refusal to accept reality has been embraced by a significant share of Republican elected officials, including the House leader, Kevin McCarthy, and much of the party’s base. Tensions over the election result, stoked by Trump, erupted in Washington over the weekend, when violent scenes followed a “Stop the Steal” rally that attracted thousands of the president’s supporters.
Under a complicated system dating back to the 1780s, a candidate becomes US president not by winning a majority of the popular vote but through the electoral college, which allots votes to the 50 states and the District of Columbia largely based on population.
Electoral college votes are cast by paper ballots in state capitols and Washington DC by individual electors, typically elected officials, prominent politicians or party officials. Bill and Hillary Clinton served as an elector in New York.
While there are sometimes “rogue” electors who vote for someone other than the winner of their state’s popular vote, the vast majority rubber-stamp the results.
After casting her ballot on Monday, Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee, who won the popular vote but lost the electoral college vote to Trump, said wryly: “I believe we should abolish the electoral college and select our president by the winner of the popular vote, same as every other office. But while it still exists, I was proud to cast my vote in New York for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.”
I believe we should abolish the Electoral College and select our president by the winner of the popular vote, same as every other office.
But while it still exists, I was proud to cast my vote in New York for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. pic.twitter.com/th9qebu9ka
When the electors finish voting, their ballots will be sent to Washington, where they will be tallied at a joint session of Congress on 6 January. Presiding over the session is the vice-president, Mike Pence, who will formally announce the result. Four years ago, Biden, then the vice-president, announced Trump’s victory.
The president and his allies pressured lawmakers in battleground states where Biden won to appoint an alternate slate of electors who would cast their votes for Trump. No states agreed to the strategy and the proceedings progress without interruption or delay.
Social distancing, mask wearing and other safety precautions as a result of the pandemic were in effect at gatherings across the country on Monday, as the US death toll from the coronavirus surpassed 300,000. Nevada’s electors met via Zoom to cast their ballots for Biden because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Electoral college members in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona voted for Biden on Monday, confirming his victories in a clutch of battleground states that Trump won in 2016 and that, four years later, his campaign unsuccessfully endeavored to overturn.
“While there will be those who are upset their candidate didn’t win, it is patently un-American and unacceptable that today’s event should be anything less than an honored tradition held with pride and in celebration,” Arizona’s secretary of state, Katie Hobbs, said.
Trump loses another case challenging election results in latest legal rebuke
Hours before Michigan’s electors were scheduled to meet and cast their ballots for Biden, a Republican state representative, Gary Eisen, said in a radio interview that there was a “Hail Mary” effort under way to disrupt the process. When asked if he could guarantee there would be no violence in Lansing today, Eisen replied: “No.”
In response to his comments, he was swiftly stripped of his committee assignments the Republican speaker of the Michigan house of representatives.
A group of Trump supporters had called online for protests outside the state capitol in Lansing, Michigan. But by early afternoon only a handful had gathered.
“It’s time to move forward together as one United States of America,” Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer said, after the state’s electors cast their 16 votes for Biden. “Now is the time for us to put this election behind us and to focus our efforts together to defeat our common enemy, Covid-19.”
Trump said late last month he would leave the White House if the electoral college voted for Biden, but has since pressed on with his unprecedented campaign to overturn his defeat, filing numerous lawsuits challenging state vote counts. On Monday, he repeated a series of unsupported claims of electoral fraud.