‘Democracy prevailed’: Biden surpasses 270 Electoral College votes

President-elect Joe Biden surpassed 270 Electoral College votes Monday afternoon, when California put him over the top.

Watch a replay of Joe Biden’s news conference:

Biden finished with 306 votes, clinching the presidency, according to CNN’s tally. President Donald Trump has 232 votes, according to CNN.

Biden declared that “not even an abuse of power” can stop a peaceful transition of power in the U.S. after last month’s election — a swipe at Trump’s refusal to accept defeat and at the top Republicans who have continued to stand by him.

Speaking on Monday from his longtime home of Wilmington, Delaware, on the day that electors nationwide cast votes affirming his victory, Biden was blunt in critiquing the damage done by Trump’s allegations the contest was stolen. Such arguments have been rejected by judges across the political spectrum, including the justices at the Supreme Court.

Democracy, Biden said, has been “pushed, tested, threatened.” But he said it proved to be “resilient, true, and strong.”

“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 in the Electoral College combined with his record-setting 81 million-vote count will help the country unify and accept his presidency. But the challenge facing Biden 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 president-elect acknowledged an irony in the circumstances, noting that he won with the same number of electoral votes — 306 — as Trump did four years ago. Trump hailed that win as a “landslide.”

“By his own standards, these numbers represent a clear victory then, and I respectfully suggest they do so now,” Biden said.

After garnering a record 82 million-plus votes, building out important parts of his new administration and preparing a move to the White House that’s now barely a month away, Biden shouldn’t lack for political strength.

And yet he and his team seized the news of the moment — formal Electoral College approval, normally a routine, mundane event — to stay on the offensive. That meant declaring the election settled and claiming a mandate to begin governing, even if might not stop Trump from disputing the results or most of his party from backing him up.

“If anyone didn’t know it before, we know it now. What beats deep in the hearts of the American people is this: Democracy,” Biden said in his speech. “In America, politicians don’t take power — the people grant it to them.”

He added, “The flame of democracy was lit in this nation a long time ago. And we now know that nothing — not even a pandemic — or an abuse of power — can extinguish that flame.”

Biden also repeated his promises to be “a president for all Americans” who will “work just as hard for those of you who didn’t vote for me, as I will for those who did.”

“There is urgent work in front of all of us. Getting the pandemic under control to getting the nation vaccinated against this virus,” Biden said. “Delivering immediate economic help so badly needed by so many Americans who are hurting today — and then building our economy back better than ever.”

Monday is the day set by law for the meeting of the Electoral College, of which Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams is a member. In reality, electors meet in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to cast their ballots. The results will be sent to Washington and tallied in a Jan. 6 joint session of Congress over which Vice President Mike Pence will preside.

The electors’ votes have drawn more attention than usual this year because Trump has refused to concede the election and continued to make unsubstantiated allegations of widespread fraud.

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Following 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.

The U.S. Constitution gives electors the power to choose the president, and when all the votes are counted Monday, Biden is expected to have 306 electoral votes, more than the 270 needed to elect a president, to 232 votes for Trump.

The Electoral College has been the subject of criticism for more than two centuries. One often-repeated gripe: The person who wins the popular vote can nonetheless lose the presidential election. That happened twice in the last two decades — in 2000 with the election of George W. Bush and in 2016 when Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes.

The college was devised at the 1787 Constitutional Convention as a compromise between those who wanted direct popular elections for president and those who preferred to have Congress decide. At a time of little national identity and competition among the states, there were concerns that people would favor their regional candidates and that big states with denser populations would dominate the vote.

The Electoral College has 538 members, with the number allocated to each state based on how many representatives it has in the House, plus its two senators. The District of Columbia gets three, despite the fact the home to Congress has no vote in the nation’s legislative system.

While the Constitution doesn’t require electors to follow their state’s popular vote, many states’ laws do. Though it’s rare, electors have challenged those laws and voted for someone else. But in July, the Supreme Court ruled those state laws are constitutional. Electors must follow their state’s popular vote, if the state has passed such a law.

When the electors meet in their states, they vote for president and vice president on separate ballots. The electors record their votes on six certificates of vote, which are paired with the six remaining certificates of ascertainment. The electors sign, seal and certify six sets of electoral votes.

The Electoral College doesn’t meet in one place. Instead, each state’s electors and the electors for the District of Columbia meet in a place chosen by their legislature, usually the state Capitol.

The election is low tech. Electors cast their votes by paper ballot: one ballot for president and one for vice president. The votes get counted, and the electors sign six certificates with the results. Each certificate gets paired with a certificate from the governor detailing the state’s vote totals.

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Those six packets then get mailed to various people specified by law. The most important copy, though, gets sent to the president of the Senate, the current vice president. This is the copy that will be officially counted later.

Electoral votes (the certificates of vote) must be received by the president of the Senate no later than nine days after the meeting of the electors. The sets of certificates are sent to Congress, as requested.

On Jan. 6, Congress will meet in a joint session to count the electoral votes. The vice president, as president of the Senate, presides over the count and announces the results. The president of the Senate then declares who has been elected president and vice president.

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If any objections to the electoral votes are made, they must be submitted in writing and be signed by at least one member of the House and one senator. If objections are presented, the House and Senate withdraw to their respective chambers to consider the objections.

If no presidential candidate wins at least 270 electoral votes, the House of Representatives decides the election under the 12th Amendment. This has happened only once: in 1824, when the House elected John Quincy Adams as president. If no vice presidential candidate wins at least 270 votes, the Senate elects the vice president, also under the 12th Amendment.

Presidential electors typically are elected officials, political hopefuls or longtime party loyalists, such as Abrams.

Others this year include South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Trump elector who could be a 2024 Republican presidential candidate; 93-year-old Paul “Pete” McCloskey, a Biden elector who is a former Republican congressman who challenged Richard Nixon for the 1972 GOP presidential nomination on a platform opposing the Vietnam War; Floridian Maximo Alvarez, an immigrant from Cuba who worried in his Republican Convention speech that anarchy and communism would overrun Biden’s America; and Muhammad Abdurrahman, a Minnesotan who tried to cast his electoral vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.