There were signs Monday that some of the president’s most ardent supporters would not abandon his cause, as groups of Republicans in six key battleground states held their own unofficial electoral-college-style votes for Trump. Though major protests did not materialize, threats of harassment and violence cast a shadow over elector meetings in several states.
Yet GOP efforts posed no substantive challenge to Biden ahead of the final tally of electoral votes by Congress on Jan. 6, experts said. Trump and his allies have failed to prove to the courts their false claims that the election was tainted by widespread fraud, and experts said they have exhausted their legal options for preventing Biden from becoming president next month.
Democrats in the six states where Trump had focused his efforts to contest Biden’s win expressed relief that the electoral college vote unfolded as it had most often in the past: without disruption or hostility.
In Harrisburg, Pa., where electors gathered in an auditorium to allow for social distancing, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar (D) read a quote from former president George H.W. Bush, a one-term Republican who lost his bid for reelection in 1992: “The people have spoken, and we respect the majesty of the democratic system.”
Exiting the vote, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, a Democrat from Philadelphia and one of 20 pro-Biden electors in Pennsylvania, called it “a good day for American democracy.”
“This is proof positive our election system works,” he said.
Biden surpassed the 270-vote threshold for winning the presidency when California cast its 55 electoral votes after 5 p.m. Eastern time. The former vice president reached 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232 by the end of the day, as expected.
“In this battle for the soul of America, democracy prevailed,” Biden said in a prime-time address after the vote Monday. “We the people voted. Faith in our institutions held. The integrity of our elections remains intact, and now it’s time to turn the page, as we’ve done throughout history.”
On Capitol Hill, some Republicans indicated a new willingness to move forward.
“Now we have the constitutional threshold, and we’ll deal with Vice President Biden as the president-elect,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.). “The president continues obviously to have all the options he has available to him, but the electoral vote today was significant.”
Sen. Mike Braun (Ind.) said that he was “disappointed” by the results of the electoral college vote but that “we must put aside politics and respect the constitutional process.”
“Today, the Electoral College has cast their votes and selected Joe Biden as the President-elect. State Legislatures, State Courts, and the United States Supreme Court have not found enough evidence of voter fraud to overturn the results of the Electoral College vote,” Braun said in a statement.
Normally an afterthought, Monday’s vote by the electoral college was closely watched over the course of more than seven hours, as individual electors registered their support for either the Republican or Democratic presidential ticket in capital cities around the country.
The anticipation followed a barrage of lawsuits alleging that voter fraud and wrongdoing by election officials delivered Biden’s win in six key states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. These claims were rejected by at least 86 judges around the country, including the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, leading to more than 50 court losses for Trump and his supporters.
Those states, where Trump unsuccessfully fought Biden’s win, drew the most attention — though none generated significant problems.
In Madison, Wis., during a gathering at the Capitol, Gov. Tony Evers (D) paused for a moment after announcing that all 10 electoral votes were cast for Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris, in line with the popular vote.
“We made it,” he said with audible relief, prompting chuckles and applause among the assembled electors. Wisconsin underwent a partial recount and multiple challenges to its results by Trump and his allies. Just Monday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected an effort by Trump to toss out 220,000 votes in the state.
In Phoenix, 11 Democratic electors cast their votes for Biden and Harris during a meeting run by Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D), whose ardent defense of the election results has made her a target of violent threats.
Hobbs decried the “artificial shadow” cast by baseless allegations of fraud and said those conspiracy theories had driven threats against her and her staff.
“While there will be those who are upset their candidate didn’t win, it is patently un-American and unacceptable that today’s events should be anything less than an honored tradition held in pride and in celebration,” she said.
Inside the Michigan Capitol in Lansing, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) praised state and local officials for “securing a fair and accurate election.”
“Now is the time for us to put this election behind us,” said Whitmer, who wore a black mask. “It’s time to move forward as one United States of America.”
At one point in Lansing, outside in the cold, a group of would-be Republican electors was turned away by state police.
“The capitol is closed,” an officer told the group in a video posted to Twitter. “All 16 electors that we’ve been advised by the governor’s staff that were going to be here to vote in the electoral college have been checked in. They’re already here.”
“FALSE certification!!” Trump legal adviser Jenna Ellis tweeted in reply.
Republicans who had been chosen to cast electoral votes for Trump if he had won still gathered to register their support in several states, in the hopes that a future court decision would invalidate the election.
“This was in no way an effort to usurp or contest the will of Pennsylvania voters,” Bernie Comfort, Trump’s Pennsylvania campaign chairwoman, said in a statement put out by the Pennsylvania GOP. She described the vote as “procedural” and designed to “preserve any legal claims that may be presented going forward.”
In Carson City, Nev., six Republican electors and two alternates set up a folding table and chairs outside the closed Nevada legislature to cast their faux vote before an audience of 15.
“What we’re doing here is complying with the requirement to vote on this day, in the state capital, in the event court cases are resolved favorably,” said Jim DeGraffenreid, who was set to be one of Trump’s Nevada electors before Biden won the state.
“You could say this is our howdy-doody to the system,” said Shawn Meehan, another Republican who took part.
The GOP votes had no legal or procedural weight, according to election law experts. None had the backing of a governor or state legislature; despite pleas and pressure from Trump, Republican-controlled chambers in several of the six states did not try to intervene to stop Biden’s win.
Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican, said Monday that such a move would have undermined the democratic process.
“Michigan’s Democratic slate of electors should be able to proceed with their duty, free from threats of violence and intimidation,” Shirkey said in a statement. “President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris won Michigan’s presidential election. It [is] our responsibility as leaders to follow the law and move forward in pursuit of policies that contribute to the betterment of Michigan.”
But there were signs that Trump and his supporters would continue to fight — the campaign filed a new election lawsuit in federal court in New Mexico.
“MILLIONS of Americans who love our country have now seen the TRUTH about the corruption and total disregard for the rules in our elections,” Ellis tweeted. “It is a VICTORY for election integrity and the TRUTH will PREVAIL because Americans are courageous and will not back down!!”
The final procedural step before Biden is inaugurated will happen when a joint session of Congress convenes next month to tally states’ electoral votes.
Some Republicans have hoped to somehow overturn Biden’s win at that stage, by asking Congress to disregard states’ official electors and replace them with Trump votes. That is extremely unlikely, in part because it would require the consent of the Democratic-led House.
And even if Republicans tried, election law experts said Monday’s faux votes would not give them a legal basis. That’s because the law requires Congress to count only electors chosen in accordance with state law. And, unless a court steps in, these votes were not.
“The only source of authority to be an elector is from state law,” said Edward Foley, a professor of constitutional law at Ohio State University. If these GOP votes do not get approval from a state or a judge, Foley said, “you and I and 10 of our friends could send in electoral votes for our favorite sports figure or movie star, and it would have the same legal status.”
Some of the Trump supporters said they were modeling their behavior after tactics used by Democrats in Hawaii in the 1960 presidential election.
On the day the electoral college voted that year, Republican Richard Nixon was ahead — but Democratic electors, believing that John F. Kennedy had carried the state, held their own vote for Kennedy. Later, after a recount, the courts and the governor declared that Kennedy had won. So Hawaii officially sent two sets of electors.
When Congress met to count the votes, Kennedy was ahead by a wide margin. With little debate, they counted Hawaii for the Democrat.
Before Monday’s vote, Khary Penebaker, a Democrat and a first-time elector in Wisconsin, parked his SUV on Capitol Square and walked in the open to a statehouse entrance, guided by a staffer.
Penebaker said he knew of no specific threats of violence or disruption, but he received significant harassment on social media in the days after the Nov. 3 election. He was about to walk into a scene where police officers, yellow reflective vests over their uniforms, stood guard at every Capitol entrance.
Just before entering, Penebaker reflected on his opportunity to play a small role in securing Biden’s victory in unusually contentious times.
“There are people who have done far more courageous things than I am doing here,” he said. “I’m not at all worried. An hour or so from now, I’m going to cast my ballot for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.”
Viebeck reported in Washington, Simmons in Madison, Sofradzija in Lansing and Worden in Harrisburg. Kim Bellware, Emma Brown, Phoebe Connelly, David A. Fahrenthold, Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman, Colby Itkowitz, Seung Min Kim, Keith Newell, Mahlia Posey, Kate Rabinowitz, Beth Reinhard, Daniela Santamariña, Neena Satija, Kevin Schaul, Peter Stevenson, Jon Swaine and Michelle Ye Hee Lee in Washington, Jeremy Duda in Phoenix, Kathleen Masterson in Carson City and Haisten Willis in Atlanta contributed to this report.