Presidential electors in 50 state capitals and Washington, D.C., began gathering Monday to formally elect Joe Biden, finalizing the 2020 election process and cutting off the last longshot avenue for President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his defeat.
Electors took place in the constitutionally required meetings against an unusual backdrop: Trump has continued to resist the results and has urged supporters to mobilize to “stop the steal,” while his aides and allies insist they’ll keep fighting Biden’s win for weeks. Trump’s efforts to sow doubts about the legitimacy of the election, in part by repeating baseless claims of fraud, have been adopted — despite repeated losses in court — by a significant portion of GOP voters and officials.
Though electors began the day watching warily for last-ditch protests by Trump or his allies Monday, there had been no notable presence even as states where Trump has been contesting the result — like Pennsylvania, Nevada and Georgia — held their elector ceremonies and recorded their votes for Biden and Vice President-elect Harris.
The only hint of drama appeared in Michigan, where the state capitol formally closed legislative offices Monday, with law enforcement citing “credible threats of violence” as Biden’s electors prepared to gather there in the afternoon. A GOP state representative, Gary Eisen, told a radio interviewer Monday morning that the Michigan Republican Party was planning some kind of “hail Mary” to override Biden’s victory that would “be all over the news later.” He declined to explicitly rule out violence, a comment that led state GOP legislative leaders to strip him of his committee posts.
“Our feelings, our desires, and our disappointments are subordinate to the health of our democracy and the will of the majority,” Michigan Senate GOP leader Mike Shirkey said in a statement.
Michigan has been the site of intense waves of protest this year against the state’s stringent anti-coronavirus measures, often featuring armed participants. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, was the target of an elaborate kidnapping plot foiled by law enforcement earlier this year. In other states, electors’ meeting locations have been withheld from the public to maximize security.
Democratic electors are working in close coordination with their state parties and the Biden campaign to ensure Monday’s ceremonies run smoothly, especially in Michigan and the four other states Biden flipped: Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Early ceremonies went off without a hitch, including in Vermont, where Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received their first three electoral votes.
“Not my first rodeo,” Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos said after the 10-minute ceremony concluded.
Nevada’s electors met via Zoom, where electors held up signed copies of their formal votes for Biden to the camera. And in Georgia, Stacey Abrams presided over a drama-free meeting that unanimously backed Biden and Harris.
“I hope you can see my smiling behind this mask,” Pennsylvania Democratic Party chair Nancy Mills said after she and the state’s other electors finalized ballots for Biden.
Trump’s electors in Florida ran into a last-minute issue when one, Senate President Wilton Simpson, indicated he tested positive for Covid-19 the night before. His withdrawal will likely trigger a process to select an alternate Trump elector to complete the slate.
For Trump, the Electoral College vote likely marks the end of his wide-ranging legal effort to remain in power. While his legal team and their allies have talked of continuing their litigation, they have also pointed to the Electoral College vote as a crucial and essentially irreversible milestone. On Monday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court shot down yet another Trump campaign lawsuit, describing one allegation of misconduct as “meritless on its face” and others as simply lodged too late to be considered.
Over the weekend, the Trump campaign began airing television ads amplifying his fabricated claims of election fraud, urging voters to “stop the steal.” Both ads were immediately removed from YouTube for violating its new policies on election-related content
Stephen Miller, a top aide to the president, said Monday on Fox News that “an alternate slate of electors” in the battleground states Trump lost will still vote, “and we are going to send those results up to Congress.”
Miller claimed that doing so will ensure “all our legal remedies remain open,” even though the states in question have appointed electors for Biden based on their certified election results. Miller said either state legislatures or Congress could accept the Trump electors. However, there’s likely no valid pathway for Congress to consider the Trump campaign’s preferred slate.
Republicans who would have served as electors in several swing states, had Trump won them, gathered in several mock ceremonies purporting to cast votes. But while some cast themselves as loyal foot soldiers in Trump’s efforts to undermine the results, others still said they were doing it as merely a procedural step. Laws and rules contemplating dueling slates of electors have relied on those alternative slates being endorsed by either a state legislature, governor or other election authority, and no state officials have formally backed Trump’s alternative electors.
“We took this procedural vote to preserve any legal claims that may be presented going forward,” Bernie Comfort, the chair of the Trump campaign in Pennsylvania, said in a statement circulated by the state party. “This was in no way an effort to usurp or contest the will of the Pennsylvania voters.”
The last step that remains after Monday is a Jan. 6 meeting of Congress to count and certify the electoral votes. Trump’s allies in the House are promising to inject some drama into that process by challenging Biden’s win in Congress, but it will likely amount to a filibuster, forcing a daylong debate that delays certification by a matter of hours.
The Constitution says little about how the process should work other than that electors are to meet on the same day across the country. Rather, each state sets its own process, often by law, to govern the meeting of the electors. Most will meet in statehouses at times set out in those laws.
Biden will officially pick up the Electoral College majority on Monday afternoon, when California’s 55 electors are set to deliver their votes for him. Earlier in the day, Democratic electors in some battleground states are expecting protests from Trump supporters as they record their votes.
Trump insisted all weekend — even after the Supreme Court shot down the legal effort he insisted was his best shot to upend Biden’s presidency — that he’s not done fighting, and the electoral meetings are the next milestone on the calendar.
“No, it’s not over,” he said in an interview with Fox News that aired on Sunday, where he repeated false claims of systemic fraud and conspiracy theories about a rigged election. The president insisted that he could prevail in local cases, though he has been trying that route for over a month without success.
The Biden campaign says it worked closely for months with state parties to ensure that only loyal supporters ended up securing the coveted elector roles, and no defections are anticipated. Biden is set to give a speech about the Electoral College results later Monday evening.
Before 2016, the process of appointing electors was often an afterthought for even the most detail-oriented presidential campaigns, with neither party paying much attention to who snagged the ceremonial spots. But after Trump’s victory in 2016, a group of Democratic electors mounted a national campaign to pressure Republicans to break from Trump and support a different Republican for president.
That effort fell well short, but it still resulted in the largest number of “faithless” electoral votes in history. Five Democratic electors bucked Hillary Clinton and two Republicans rejected Trump, effectively disenfranchising millions of voters who had cast their votes for the major candidates in those states and expected their electors to support them.
Many states have laws that punish these so-called faithless electors, often with a removal from their position or some sort of fine. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld those laws as constitutional — another bulwark against Trump’s efforts to subvert an election that he lost.
This year’s Electoral College ceremonies are also happening amid an international pandemic, with hundreds of thousands in the United States sickened with coronavirus and thousands dying every day. State laws require in-person meetings to cast Electoral College votes, creating logistical challenges and requiring additional layers of coordination to ensure that the meetings themselves don’t become Covid-19 hot spots.