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Pennsylvania certifies its presidential election results, officially declaring Joe Biden the winner

The normally undisputed certification process drew unusual scrutiny this year. But in the end, Biden officially won Pennsylvania’s presidential election by more than 80,000 votes.

Former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden arrives at the podium, onstage for a rally on Eakins Oval May 18, 2019.
Former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden arrives at the podium, onstage for a rally on Eakins Oval May 18, 2019.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Despite weeks of extreme rhetoric and failed lawsuits from President Donald Trump, Pennsylvania’s top elections official certified the state’s presidential election results on Tuesday, officially declaring Joe Biden the winner and paving the way for him to receive the state’s 20 Electoral College votes next month.

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar made the final count official three weeks after the Nov. 3 election: Biden received 3,458,229 votes, 80,555 more than President Donald Trump’s 3,377,674 votes. Biden won 50.01% of the vote to 48.8% for Trump.

Gov. Tom Wolf then signed what is called the Certificate of Ascertainment to name the 20 Biden electors who will meet in Harrisburg on Dec. 14 to formally cast the votes for Biden.

With the certification, the counting of votes in Pennsylvania’s 2020 presidential election is now complete — climaxing sweeping changes in state election law, a torrent of pre-election litigation, months of electoral preparation during the pandemic amid a flood of misinformation, abuse and even death threats aimed at election workers, and a flood of postelection legal challenges.

Still, Trump’s campaign continues to press its case, dismissing certification in court filings as just “a procedural step” that could be undone with a favorable ruling before the Dec. 8 cutoff date to name electors. And the campaign touted a partisan state Senate hearing Wednesday in Gettysburg — one before a panel with only GOP members — at which it vowed Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani would present the evidence for allegations he has failed to offer in court.

“It is in everyone’s interest to have a full vetting of election irregularities and fraud,” Giuliani said. “And the only way to do this is with public hearings.”

Still, more than a dozen lawsuits from Trump and his GOP allies have now dwindled to three. In the most closely followed legal fight, the campaign had asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to stop the state from certifying its results — a request that lawyers for the elections administrators described Tuesday as now moot given that certification had already occurred.

“The Trump campaign’s not-so-veiled attempt to maintain political power at the expense of Pennsylvania voters should be rejected out of hand,” Mark Aronchick, a lawyer on behalf of several Democratic counties, including Philadelphia, wrote in new filings hours after the state’s totals were declared official. “The vote has been certified. It should stand.”

Meanwhile, Republicans say they continue to hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will take an issue that the GOP raised well before Election Day — their challenge to a ruling from the state’s highest court that created a controversial three-day grace period for late-arriving mail ballots that had been sent by Election Day.

As it happened, Boockvar did not include in the final count the roughly 10,000 votes that arrived during that window.

That decision came after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered counties earlier this month to keep counts of those ballots separate from their main tallies, while the justices considered whether to take up the GOP’s appeal. On Tuesday, the justices agreed to accept further briefs on the case up until Nov. 30.

On Tuesday, the Biden campaign celebrated the state certification and predicted the long-shot Trump legal challenges would go nowhere.

“Trump did everything he could to disenfranchise voters and stop the results from being certified in Pennsylvania, including filing over 15 unsuccessful lawsuits — most recently producing one of the more embarrassing courtroom performances of all time, with the judge in the case ruling that their arguments were ‘without merit’ and ‘unsupported by evidence,’ ” senior Biden campaign adviser Bob Bauer said in a statement.

The vote certification is a procedural step that normally goes unnoticed by the general public; by the time the final votes are made official, the winner of the state has usually been known for weeks. The Associated Press and other news organizations called Pennsylvania for Biden on Saturday, Nov. 7.

News organizations declare winners based on statistical models using unofficial vote counts and exit polling, combined with on-the-ground reporting. Candidates make the same judgments. Office-seekers and the public typically accept the unofficial results long before they are certified.

But this year, Trump has repeatedly falsely attacked the electoral system, especially in Pennsylvania. He spent months making accusations of widespread fraud among mail ballots — before a single one had been cast — and raising unfounded claims of election rigging. Hours after polls closed, with millions of votes still uncounted, he falsely declared he had won the presidency and had an insurmountable lead in Pennsylvania. He then falsely declared he had won Pennsylvania.

Since then, Trump’s attacks on the results of the election have centered on a largely unsuccessful and increasingly desperate legal fight, as well as escalating rhetorical attacks.

That has brought new levels of attention to the generally mundane work of election administration. In downtown Philadelphia, for example, hundreds of people protested, partied, and demonstrated for days outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center as officials quietly, carefully counted mail ballots. A livestream of the city’s vote count drew thousands of viewers at a time and was broadcast on national and international news segments.

» READ MORE: There’s a lot of noise around Pennsylvania’s election. These people are keeping their focus on counting votes.

The certification of votes, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, has similarly drawn unusual levels of public scrutiny.

In Michigan, Republican elections officials in Detroit’s Wayne County initially refused to approve of the votes, deadlocking with Democratic officials before reversing course hours later. Trump afterward reportedly called the Republicans directly, prompting them to unsuccessfully try to rescind their votes and block certification. Trump also met with top Republican state lawmakers from Michigan in what Democrats and others feared would lead to an effort to somehow overturn the state’s results. Michigan certified its results Monday.

» READ MORE: Jake Corman, the Pa. Senate Republican leader, on the election, voter fraud claims, and who won the presidency

So the secretary’s certification of election results, usually a procedural legal step, has taken on outsize political and symbolic importance this year.

Elections are run at the county level — Pennsylvania’s 67 counties run 67 simultaneous elections — and counties have certified their results in the last few days, sending them to Boockvar. (In another unusual move, Republican officials in a few Pennsylvania counties voted against certification on Monday, though their votes were in the minority.)

The Department of State said Boockvar’s certification Tuesday was “following certifications of the presidential vote submitted by all 67 counties late Monday.” Officials in two counties, though — Berks and Carbon — said Tuesday morning that they had not certified their final votes, but expected to this week.

A Berks County spokesperson said that the county, acting on a request from the state, had submitted an affidavit with vote totals on Friday.

» READ MORE: Pennsylvania counties certify election results despite isolated pushback from Trump allies

After counties submitted their results, the Pennsylvania Department of State calculated the final results, including aggregating statewide numbers to determine complete totals.

Wolf and Boockvar, a Wolf appointee, both thanked the workers who oversaw the election and counted the returns.

Said Boockvar:

“We are tremendously grateful to all 67 counties who have been working extremely long hours to ensure that every qualified voter’s vote is counted safely and securely.”