WASHINGTON -- The Electoral College formally chose Joe Biden on Monday as the nation's next president, giving him an electoral majority of 306 votes and confirming his victory in last month's election. The state-by-state voting took on added importance this year because of President Donald Trump's refusal to concede he had lost.
Heightened security was in place in some states as electors met to cast paper ballots, with masks, social distancing and other pandemic precautions the order of the day. The results will be sent to Washington and tallied in a Jan. 6 joint session of Congress, with Vice President Mike Pence presiding.
For all of Trump's claims of fraud, there was little suspense and no change as all the electoral votes allocated to Biden and the president in the states' popular votes went officially to each man.
Trump had 232 electoral votes, and Biden noted the 74-vote margin that Trump had called a landslide when he won by that much in 2016. The Democrat topped the incumbent Republican by more than 7 million in the popular vote.
"By [Trump's] own standards, these numbers represent a clear victory then, and I respectfully suggest they do so now," Biden said.
California's 55 electoral votes put Biden over the top. Vermont, with three votes, was the first state to report. Hawaii, with four votes, was the last.
"Once again in America, the rule of law, our Constitution and the will of the people have prevailed. Our democracy -- pushed, tested, threatened -- proved to be resilient, true and strong," Biden said in an evening speech in which he stressed the size of his win and the record 81 million people who voted for him.
He renewed his campaign promise to be a president for all Americans, regardless of whether they voted for him, and he said the country has hard work ahead on the coronavirus and the economy.
But there was no concession from the White House, where Trump has continued to make allegations of fraud.
Trump remained in the Oval Office long after the sun set in Washington, calling allies and fellow Republicans while keeping track of the running Electoral College tally, according to White House and campaign aides. The president frequently ducked into the private dining room off the Oval Office to watch on TV, complaining that the cable networks were treating it like a mini-election night while not giving his challenges any airtime, aides said.
The president is said to have grown increasingly disappointed with the size of "Stop the Steal" rallies across the nation as well as efforts for the GOP to field its own slates of electors in states. A presidential wish for a fierce administration defense led to TV appearances early Monday by Stephen Miller, one of Trump's staunchest advocates, to try to downplay the importance of the Electoral College vote and suggest that Trump's legal challenges would continue all the way to Inauguration Day on Jan. 20.
In a Fox News interview taped over the weekend, Trump said that "I worry about the country having an illegitimate president, that's what I worry about. A president that lost and lost badly."
TURNING THE PAGE
Biden criticized Trump for threatening core principles of democracy even as the president-elect told Americans that their form of self-government ultimately "prevailed."
Speaking from his home of Wilmington, Del., Biden was blunt in critiquing the damage from Trump's allegations that the contest was stolen. Such allegations have been roundly rejected by judges across the political spectrum.
"The flame of democracy was lit in this nation a long time ago," Biden said. "And we now know that nothing, not even a pandemic or an abuse of power, can extinguish that flame."
Biden and his team hope that the formal victory will help the country unify and accept his presidency. But the challenge facing him was evident as many congressional Republicans, including some of the party's top leaders, refused to officially accept Biden's win. Trump, meanwhile, shows no sign of conceding.
The fact that Biden had to give such a speech shortly after electors voted to make him the president -- a usually routine and even mundane step -- shows how extraordinary the post-election period has been.
"Now it is time to turn the page as we've done throughout our history," Biden said. "To unite. To heal."
He said that was the only way the country could overcome the worst health crisis in more than a century, adding that in the face of the pandemic, "we need to work together, give each other a chance and lower the temperature."
Biden recalled that one of his jobs as vice president four years ago, presiding over the Senate, was to formally recognize Trump's electoral victory. He said he expected the same process to occur this time -- saluting the small number of GOP senators who have acknowledged his victory.
On Monday in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- the six battleground states that Biden won and Trump contested -- electors gave Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris their votes in low-key proceedings. Nevada's electors met via Zoom because of the pandemic.
Trump's efforts to undermine the results led to concerns about safety for the electors, virtually unheard of in previous years. In Michigan, lawmakers from both parties reported receiving threats, and legislative offices were closed over threats of violence. Biden won the state by 154,000 votes, or 2.8 percentage points.
Georgia state police were out in force at the state Capitol in Atlanta before Democratic electors met. There were no protesters seen.
Even with the Electoral College's confirmation of Biden's victory, some Republicans continued to refuse to acknowledge that reality. Yet their opposition to Biden had no practical effect on the electoral process, with the Democrat to be sworn in next month.
Republicans who would have been Trump electors met anyway in a handful of states Biden won. Pennsylvania Republicans said they cast a "procedural vote" for Trump and Pence in case courts that have repeatedly rejected challenges to Biden's victory were to somehow still determine that Trump had won.
In North Carolina, Utah and other states across the country where Trump won, his electors turned out to duly cast their ballots for him. Electors in North Carolina had their temperatures checked before being allowed to enter the Capitol to vote. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes withdrew as a Trump elector and was in quarantine because he was exposed to someone with covid-19.
Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom Trump defeated in the presidential campaign four years ago, were among New York's 29 electors for Biden and Harris.
In New Hampshire, before the state's four electors voted for Biden at the State House in Concord, 13-year-old Brayden Harrington led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance. He had delivered a moving speech at the Democratic National Convention in August about the struggle with stuttering he shares with Biden.
After weeks of Republican legal challenges that were dismissed by judges, Trump and Republican allies tried to persuade the Supreme Court last week to set aside 62 electoral votes for Biden in four states, which might have thrown the outcome into doubt. The justices rejected the effort Friday.
In Wisconsin, a narrowly divided state Supreme Court on Monday rejected Trump's lawsuit attempting to overturn his loss in the battleground state.
In the 4-3 ruling, the court's three liberal justices were joined by swing Justice Brian Hagedorn, who said three of Trump's four claims were filed too late and the other was without merit. The ruling ends Trump's legal challenges in state court.
The president sought to have more than 221,000 ballots disqualified in Dane and Milwaukee counties, the state's two most heavily Democratic counties. Hagedorn said the Trump campaign was "not entitled to the relief it seeks."
The justice used a sports analogy.
"Our laws allow the challenge flag to be thrown regarding various aspects of election administration," Hagedorn wrote. "The challenges raised by the Campaign in this case, however, come long after the last play or even the last game; the Campaign is challenging the rulebook adopted before the season began."
Trump wanted to disqualify absentee ballots cast early and in person, saying that there wasn't a proper written request made for the ballots; that there were absentee ballots cast by people who claimed "indefinitely confined" status; that there were absentee ballots collected by poll workers at Madison parks; and that there were absentee ballots where clerks filled in missing information on ballot envelopes.
The court ruled that Trump's challenge to voters who were indefinitely confined was without merit and that the other claims came too late.
The three dissenting justices, led by Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, said the court should have decided whether votes should have counted in each of the four categories, and clarified the law for future elections.
"A significant portion of the public does not believe that the November 3, 2020, presidential election was fairly conducted," Roggensack wrote. "Once again, four justices on this court cannot be bothered with addressing what the statutes require to assure that absentee ballots are lawfully cast."
Justices Rebecca Dallet and Jill Karofsky, who sided with Hagedorn, wrote separately to emphasize that there was no evidence of fraud in Wisconsin's election.
"Wisconsin voters complied with the election rulebook," they said. "No penalties were committed and the final score was the result of a free and fair election."
Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul called the ruling "a repudiation of a sordid attempt to steal the authority to award our electoral votes away from the people of Wisconsin. The will of the people has prevailed."
An hour after the ruling was released, the state's 10 electors for Biden met in Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' conference room in the state Capitol. Evers said "we made it" after they cast their votes for Biden.
A national lawyers group Monday called for professional licensing bodies to investigate what it called a "breach of ethical rules" by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and 17 of his counterparts in red states who sued in the Supreme Court last week in an unsuccessful attempt to overturn Biden's win in four battleground states.
Lawyers Defending American Democracy, a nonpartisan group that says it has the support of 5,000 lawyers across the country, said in a statement that Paxton and his fellow Republican state attorneys general filed an "abusive lawsuit" that pushed groundless theories that erode confidence in vital institutions.
"The historically unprecedented attack on our democracy needs to be met by historically unprecedented state bar investigations," said the group.
It called for the state bar of Texas, and its lawyer-licensing counterparts in other states, to investigate unprofessional conduct by not only the attorneys general but also any lawyers among the 126 GOP members of Congress who supported the suit.
"We call on state licensing authorities to promptly investigate the breach of ethical rules by these public officials and all lawyers participating in the filing of this Supreme Court petition," the group said.
"They must not shrink from applying established ethical rules to discipline those officials."
Paxton spokesmen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawyers group was formed in the past two years to challenge what it considers Trump's "assault on the rule of law." Among lawyers supporting its condemnation of Paxton's lawsuit were two scholars at the University of Texas at Austin.
"Every constitutional lawyer knew the lawsuit was frivolous -- the AG's office should have known that, too," said Lucas Powe, a professor of law and government.
Law professor Jordan Steiker added: "In constitutional democracies, courts remain open to enforce important norms. The Texas effort to reverse the outcome of our presidential election, without any plausible grounds in fact or law to justify that result, amounts to an abuse of our courts. ... Worse still is the apparent goal of sowing doubt about the election's outcome and to use the availability of our courts as a weapon against democracy itself."
Information for this article was contributed by Mark Sherman, Jonathan Lemire, Scott Bauer, Aamer Madhani, Will Weissert and staff members of The Associated Press; and by Robert T. Garrett of Tribune News Service.