Written by Shane Goldmacher and Adam Nagourney
Some electors received police escorts. Some cast their votes in an undisclosed location. Some drew a nationwide audience for what is usually a procedural and obscure constitutional undertaking. Most wore masks and adhered to social distancing rules in deference to the coronavirus pandemic that has defined this long campaign.
And in the end, President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential race was affirmed Monday, as he topped the 270 Electoral College votes he needed to move into the White House next month, despite President Donald Trump’s relentless promotion of conspiracy theories and attacks on the integrity of the results.
All of the electors in the key battlegrounds, whose results Trump has contested, delivered their support to Biden.
Here are four takeaways on the longer-term effects of Trump’s refusal to accept the outcome, Biden’s victory and the future of the democratic process in the United States.
Biden wins, again
Joe Biden has been elected the 46th president of the United States.
That may not sound like news to those of you who have followed the events of the last five weeks, considering the fact that Biden defeated Trump by more than 7 million votes. But the election is not fully over until the Electoral College weighs in, and that took place Monday. It fell, appropriately enough, to California — a state at the center of the opposition to the president — to put Trump’s Democratic challenger over the top.
The question now is how Republicans who have refused to acknowledge the election outcome will respond to this unsurprising news. Many, including Sen. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, had argued that the race had simply been called by the news media, and not yet by the Electoral College. They used that reasoning to decline to consider Biden as the president-elect, much less meet with him.
Such an argument is now far more difficult to make. “Now it is time to turn the page,” Biden is expected to say in a speech Monday night.
Democracy prevailed, but at a great price
Yes, a majority of the electors called their ballots for Biden.
But Monday began with a top White House adviser, Stephen Miller, declaring on Fox News that there had been a “fraudulent election result” and saying that “an alternate slate of electors” in contested states would vote and would send their results to Congress from states the president lost.
Miller is not alone; much of the Republican Party still refuses to fully and publicly acknowledge the election results, even as they have been certified by all 50 states, the Electoral College electors have voted and the Supreme Court has declined to hear a legal challenge that Trump had teased as “perhaps the most important case in history.”
Democracy is fragile, and built upon public trust. And while the outcome of this year’s race has been affirmed, the acid messaging of Trump and his allies threatens to weaken the pillars of the institutions that run America’s elections.
“The greatest danger to America is the naive belief that there is something unique that guarantees America will remain a democratic civil society,” Stuart Stevens, a longtime Republican strategist turned vocal Trump critic, said on Twitter. “Much of a major party has turned against democracy. It’s foolish to believe that doesn’t have consequences.”
There are some dissenters. Rep. Paul Mitchell of Michigan, who is retiring and served in House Republican leadership, said Monday that despite voting for Trump last month, he was quitting the party for the remainder of his term, turned off by the efforts to overturn the election.
“I believe that raw political considerations, not constitutional or voting integrity concerns, motivate many in party leadership to support the ‘stop the steal’ efforts, which is extremely disappointing to me,” he wrote in an open letter to party leaders.
The system survived the messy 2000 recount and two presidents elected in the 21st century despite them losing the popular vote. There were some “faithless,” if ultimately meaningless, electors in 2016. The great unknown is the cumulative impact of those past bouts and this year’s further erosion of democratic norms on the next inevitably close and contested election. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram
Who knew? These are what Electoral College meetings look like
“I hope you can see me smiling behind the mask.”
Those words from Nancy Mills, chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, came at the end of the balloting in Pennsylvania on Monday, after the state awarded its 20 Electoral College votes to Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Biden defeated Trump there by about 81,000 votes.
Mills was serving in her official capacity as president of the Pennsylvania Electoral College delegation. In almost any other presidential election, her role in history would be ceremonial and mostly unnoticed.
Not this year. One of the many unusual things about this election was that Americans were able to see — and wanted to see — what is usually a postscript to Election Day. Starting Monday morning, delegations of electors began gathering in states across the nation, the proceedings carried by live video streams or even on television.
Because of the pandemic, Electoral College members observed social distancing rules and wore masks. But the country could see the solemnity and ceremony that accompany the process even in years when no one is watching. The appointment of the officers for the day. The distribution of the secret ballots. The wait for the official count.
The vote in Pennsylvania was free of any disruption. But Mills did allude to the drama that hung over the day as she brought the proceedings to a close.
“We are the state that put Joseph R. Biden and Kamala Harris over the 270 Electoral College threshold,” she said. “We are the state that returned the dignity and honor to the United States of America.”
Republicans are (still) resisting reality
Inside the Georgia Capitol, Democratic electors gathered on the floor of the state Senate to cast their votes for Biden as president and Harris as vice president, the first time the state had voted Democratic in 28 years.
“Today, we will fulfill our constitutional duty,” Nikema Williams, chair of the Georgia Democratic Party and a congresswoman-elect, declared as she called the meeting to order.
Elsewhere in the Capitol, a group of Republicans gathered for something of a shadow ceremony, anointing their own slate of pro-Trump electors. The group’s vote had no actual bearing on the Electoral College tally. David Shafer, chair of the Georgia Republican Party, explained the vote of the nonelectors as a bid to keep Trump’s legal options open.
“Had we not meet today and cast our votes, the president’s pending election contest would have been effectively mooted,” he wrote on Twitter.