WASHINGTON - President-elect Joe Biden’s lead in the popular vote count over President Donald Trump has topped 5 million, as the incumbent president continues to refuse to concede the election and instead is leveling unfounded claims of voter fraud in a number of states.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Biden had received 77,033,649 votes (50.8%), compared to Trump’s 71,961,860 votes (47.5%), according to a count by FOX News.
Biden was projected as the winner of the presidential election on Nov. 7 by the Associated Press and other major news outlets after garnering 290 electoral votes and flipping Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — states that Trump won in 2016.
More than a week after Election Day, the Associated Press on Wednesday called Alaska’s three electoral votes for Trump — pushing his tally to 217.
The Associated Press has not yet called Georgia (16) and North Carolina (15) in the presidential race, as both states have outstanding ballots left to count and Georgia, specifically, shows a razor-thing margin that has lead to a recount. But even if Trump wins both of those states, his electoral vote count would only total 248 — still well below the 270-vote threshold needed to be re-elected.
Biden’s popular vote lead surpassed the historic margin between former President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012, when Obama had 4,982,296 more votes than his Republican challenger.
The margin is still below the 9.5 million vote lead Obama earned in 2008 when he defeated Republican candidate John McCain. The largest popular vote margin in a U.S. presidential race was in 1972, when former President Richard Nixon earned nearly 18 million more votes over Democratic challenger George McGovern.
President-elect Joe Biden addresses the media about the Trump Administration’s lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act on Nov. 10, 2020 at the Queen Theater in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
As Trump continues to level unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, state officials and election experts have said the 2020 election unfolded smoothly across the country and without any widespread irregularities.
Election experts said the large increase in advance voting amid the coronavirus pandemic — 107 million people voting early in person and by mail — helped take pressure off Election Day operations.
“The 2020 general election was one of the smoothest and most well-run elections that we have ever seen, and that is remarkable considering all the challenges,” said Ben Hovland, a Democrat appointed by Trump to serve on the Election Assistance Commission, which works closely with officials on election administration.
Following Biden’s projected victory, Trump has sought to discredit the integrity of the election and argued without evidence that the results will be overturned. Republican lawmakers have said the president should be allowed to launch legal challenges, though many of those lawsuits have already been turned away by judges and those that remain do not include evidence of problems that would change the outcome of the race.
In Wisconsin, a battleground state where Biden narrowly edged out Trump, top election official Meagan Wolfe said there were no problems with the election reported to her office and no complaints filed alleging any irregularities.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, said the same was true in her state, which Biden also won.
“Let me be clear — the November elections in Michigan ran as smoothly as ever,” Nessel said, adding that there were no “instances of irregularities in the process of counting the votes, only evidence-free allegations, wild speculation, and conspiracy theories.”
Studies have repeatedly shown that voter fraud is exceptionally rare.
Long before a single ballot was cast in the 2020 presidential election, Trump raised, without evidence, questions about the integrity of the election and railed against mail voting despite a long history of mail ballots being used successfully in the country. At one point, he falsely claimed the only way he could lose was if the election were rigged.
Some states that expanded mail-in voting to make it safer to cast a ballot during the virus outbreak lean Republican and voted for Trump — Nebraska, North Dakota and Montana. He has raised no concerns about the results there.
Much of Trump’s ire has centered on Pennsylvania, where the campaign has launched multiple lawsuits despite no indications of fraud or large-scale problems.
“On Election Day, we didn’t have any reports of anything significant,” said Lisa Schaefer, who leads the bipartisan County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. “We have every reason to have confidence in the result of this election, as we do every other election.”
Incidents that did get attention were in some Ohio and Texas counties, where electronic poll books used to check in voters were sidelined when polls opened because they were still downloading a database update. That forced officials to turn to paper backups or extend voting hours on Election Day. Some Georgia counties also grappled with poll book issues and with ballot-processing difficulties in a new statewide voting system.
That said, the errors seemed to have occurred at lower rates than in most elections, University of Iowa computer scientist Doug Jones said.
“The practical consequence of Trump’s call to vigilance to prevent fraud was increased scrutiny from both sides, and this increased scrutiny seems to have worked,” Jones said. “Election officials have been more careful, and election procedures have been followed more scrupulously than usual.”
Biden’s transition process as president-elect has been stalled amid Trump’s resistance to acknowledging the outcome of the race, as well as the widespread resistance from his allies. The head of the General Services Administration, a Trump appointee, has held off on certifying Biden as the winner of the election.
The certification — known as ascertainment — frees up money for the transition and clears the way for Biden’s team to begin putting in place the transition process at agencies.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defiantly told reporters on Tuesday that there would be “a smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” despite Biden’s projected win. Attorney General William Barr, another loyal Trump ally, authorized the Justice Department to probe unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud, giving prosecutors the ability to go around longstanding policy that normally would prohibit such overt actions before the election is certified.
In response, the Justice Department’s top prosecutor for election crimes, Richard Pilger, said he would step down from that post, according to an email he sent to colleagues and obtained by the AP.
Meanwhile, Biden pressed forward with plans to build out his administration, assembling a team of experts to face the surging COVID-19 pandemic. During a press conference on Tuesday, Biden called Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the election results “an embarrassment, quite frankly.”
"We are already beginning the transition. We are well underway," Biden said.
This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.