WASHINGTON – Northwest elected officials urged calm and stressed the sanctity of the U.S. voting process Friday as Democratic candidate Joe Biden, leading his opponent by more than 4 million total votes amid historic turnout, appeared on the brink of winning the 270 electoral votes needed to reach the White House while incumbent President Donald Trump continued making evidence-free claims about cheating by Democrats.
By Friday night, the Associated Press projected Biden winning 264 electoral votes to Trump’s 214. The former vice president needed to win just one of the four undecided states – Nevada, Pennsylvania, Georgia or North Carolina – and held narrow leads in all but North Carolina as the final votes were being counted.
Speaking in Delaware just before 11 p.m. eastern time Friday, Biden expressed confidence that he would prevail and called for patience “as we count all the votes.”
“We don’t have a final declaration of victory yet, but the numbers tell us a clear and convincing story,” Biden said. “We’re going to win this race.”
Washington’s top election official, Secretary of State Kim Wyman, said the election has gone remarkably well, especially in light of the challenges posed by the pandemic.
“This was my eighth presidential election on the administrative side, and I think this was, from an administrative point of view, the best we’ve ever done as a nation,” Wyman said. “When you think back on this year and all of the hurdles election officials had to go through to conduct this election, from the impacts of COVID to having the biggest turnout in the country’s history, it’s pretty exciting and I’m really just proud of my colleagues around the country who worked really hard to serve their voters well.”
The election saw the highest level of voter turnout in more than a century as states made last-minute adjustments to their voting systems amid concerns about COVID-19, paving the way for unprecedented levels of mail-in voting. After Trump spent months railing against voting by mail, his supporters largely cast their votes in person, leaving the remaining mail-in ballots skewed heavily in Biden’s favor.
Trump repeated allegations of fraud on Twitter throughout the day after a press conference Thursday evening in which he made a series of false and unproven statements about his opponents “stealing” the election.
“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” Trump said from the White House. “If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.”
Wyman, a Republican, said that claim does damage to public trust in the nation’s election systems.
“I don’t know what illegal votes he’s referring to,” she said. “General statements like that, that are just thrown out to cast doubt on the results, don’t serve the American public well. As an election official, I don’t know how to address that because I don’t even know what illegal votes he’s talking about.”
Trump said Thursday that votes that “came in late” should not be counted, but Wyman said states are counting only ballots that were cast in time according to election laws, which vary from state to state. Several states, including Washington, accept mailed ballots received after Nov. 3 as long as they were postmarked on or before Election Day.
“Is he talking about ballots that are counted after election night?” Wyman said. “My state has been counting ballots this whole week, and they are all legal ballots. I don’t think that the president has wanted any ballots to be counted after election night, but that’s not how elections in America work.”
“If you want to make these types of allegations, give me specific examples and then we can talk about them, but to just make willy-nilly statements that because we’re still counting ballots – like we do every election – that’s somehow illegal, that’s just patently false on its face.”
While some Republicans condemned Trump’s remarks in the 24 hours after his Thursday press conference, others have backed up the president’s grievances while avoiding his most inflammatory claims.
“It’s our responsibility to make sure that we are maintaining the integrity of our elections,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, said Friday, “because that’s foundational to trust and confidence in outcomes and the peaceful transfer of power.”
“I think we need to make sure that every legal vote is counted,” McMorris Rodgers said, a demand no Democrat has disagreed with. “I’ve heard some stories, but I think we all need to find out what’s actually going on. We need to find out what the truth is, then make sure that the counts are legal and then accept the results.”
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, released a statement shortly after the president’s remarks Thursday evening.
“All votes should be counted in accordance with state laws and procedures,” Crapo said. “Counting every legal vote is vital to our nation’s core principles. The integrity of our election process is equally imperative, and the courts should resolve any alleged improprieties. I have faith in the democratic process and my fellow Americans to accept the final, certified results.”
In a statement Friday, Sen. Jim Risch, also an Idaho Republican, called free and fair elections “the cornerstone of our democracy.”
“Faith in our election system can only be gained with full transparency of the voting process,” Risch said. “Every legal vote must be counted and every nonlegal vote eliminated. Claims of irregularities must be fully examined and then decided by the courts, based on the evidence presented. Loss of confidence in the electoral system would be catastrophic for our country.”
With its path back to the presidency seemingly slipping away, the Trump campaign has launched a legal blitz in the key swing states that will decide the election. Most of the lawsuits are unlikely to affect a significant number of votes and some have already been dismissed by judges.
Even before election day, the nation saw a surge of voting-related lawsuits as Democrats generally tried to make voting easier and Republicans sought to make it harder, often citing security concerns.
“Since the 2000 election, I think campaigns learned that if you’re not winning at the polls, win in court,” Wyman said. “And that’s certainly been a strategy by multiple campaigns in the last 20 years. I didn’t expect 200 or more lawsuits in this election cycle, but I’m not surprised by it. This is definitely going to go down as the most litigated election in our country’s history, and I hope we’re better for it on the other side.”
Trump has called for the Supreme Court to step in, but unlike the 2000 presidential race, won by George W. Bush after the Supreme Court intervened in a decisive lawsuit, none of the legal challenges from the Trump campaign appear to affect enough ballots to decide any state’s race.
At the same time as he has decried the vote counting as fraudulent, Trump has cheered a much sunnier outcome of the election for Republicans. After pre-election polls suggested Democrats were primed to expand their majority in the House and perhaps take control of the Senate, GOP candidates exceeded expectations and are on track to retain the Senate majority while gaining ground in the House.
Republican gains in the House have been driven by female candidates. McMorris Rodgers is currently one of just 13 GOP women in the lower chamber, but at least 13 more women are on track to join the Republican caucus in January.
“It’s been encouraging to see more women running for Congress, and I think as more women continue to see these role models, more will do it,” said McMorris Rodgers, pointing out that she was just the 200th woman out of more than 10,000 people to serve as representatives.
“It’s really a tribute to a lot of hard work over many years to recruit women, in particular, to run for Congress. It’s been encouraging to see more women running for Congress, and I think as more women continue to see these role models that more will do it.”
This election has seen the AP and other news outlets take far longer than in past years to project a winner, something Trump has used to sow doubts about the integrity of the process, but Wyman said election officials need to take their time.
“The hardest thing when you’re under that kind of scrutiny and pressure is there’s a lot of motivation to go fast,” she said. “That’s when people make mistakes. There’s a reason for the policies and procedures. Accuracy is more important than speed.”
Congressional Democrats like Rep. Kim Schrier of Issaquah have continued to urge patience as votes are counted.
“Every ballot will be counted and we must be patient,” Schrier tweeted. “My heartfelt gratitude to all the election staff and volunteers who are working so hard.”
Wyman also took issue with the president insinuating Thursday that election administrators were part of a conspiracy against him.
“To make those statements about the ethics and the integrity of the people doing this work because you are losing, potentially, is just incredibly disappointing,” Wyman said. “To just go onto Twitter and make baseless, wild accusations about the integrity of our election and the people that conduct it is very alarming, it does undermine public confidence, and (from) the president of the United States, I expect better.”