They convened amid unusual scrutiny, widespread protests and rafts of speculation about efforts to alter the outcome, but, in the end, the nation’s 538 presidential electors mostly stuck to the script Monday, formally sealing Donald Trump’s victory with 304 votes in the electoral college, well above what he needed to capture the White House.
After all the efforts to lobby Republican electors to desert Trump, only two did — a pair from Texas, one of whom voted for former Rep. Ron Paul and the other for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Indeed, instead of an uprising against Trump, the day’s voting was punctuated more by small, but persistent, gestures of Democratic discontent with Hillary Clinton. A handful of electors deserted her and a few more tried to but were deterred by state “faithless elector” laws.
Some of the Democratic dissenters were supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who lost the primaries to Clinton but galvanized the party’s left wing. Others were backers of an abortive effort that had tried to recruit Democrats and Republicans to unite behind a third candidate other than Clinton or Trump.
In the end, seven electors voted for a person other than the candidate who won their states — the largest number of electoral college desertions in a presidential contest in U.S. history, eclipsing a record set in 1808.
The electoral college meetings themselves followed rituals carried out every four years for generations. But they convened in a highly unusual environment caused in part by Trump’s loss in the popular vote — Clinton defeated him by almost 2.9 million ballots — as well as by the nature of his candidacy.
All that contributed to the day’s other main note — protests, which were spirited, at times, despite few doubts about the eventual outcome.
“I think our chance of changing their minds is virtually zero," conceded Connie Wernersbach, 62, a retired intensive-care nurse from Fayetteville, Ga., who joined a demonstration outside the state Capitol in Atlanta. “This is just a demonstration to show we’re unhappy.”
The final result was a relief to Trump’s supporters, but a disappointment to those who saw the normally obscure electoral college as their last chance to block the iconoclastic businessman from succeeding President Obama.
“Basically, it’s over,” said Thomas Mann, resident scholar at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies. “He’s going to be the president.”
On Jan. 6, Congress is scheduled to tally the 538 electoral votes and declare Trump the winner. Trump will be sworn in as president on Jan. 20.
The final count was 304 for Trump, 227 for Clinton, three for former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and one each for Sanders, Paul, Kasich, and Faith Spotted Eagle, a Sioux leader and environmental activist.
Trump, who is vacationing this week at his Mar-a-Lago beachfront resort in Palm Beach, Fla., said he’d surpassed the electoral-vote majority “by a very large margin, far greater than ever anticipated by the media.”
“This election represents a movement that millions of hard working men and women all across the country stood behind and made possible,” he said in a written statement.
Like several times before, Trump referred to his electoral college margin as "a historic electoral landslide.” In truth, his electoral majority ranked 46th among the nation’s 58 presidential elections.
Many of the elector gatherings were enlivened — or in some cases briefly disrupted — by noisy demonstrators.
In Wisconsin, where Trump scored one of his narrowest victories, police ejected a woman from a state Capitol hearing room in Madison after she screamed at the 10 electors: “You don’t deserve to be in America! You have sold us out! Listen to your hearts!”
In Atlanta, hundreds of protesters braved frigid weather to march. Wearing thick winter coats, gloves and hats, they carried signs calling Trump a “fascist thug” and “Putin’s Poodle.”
In Pennsylvania, another crucial swing state that Trump won by a slim margin, police removed a half-dozen protesters who were blocking a street.
In other states, the atmosphere was more festive — even on the losing side. The highlight in New York was Bill Clinton’s appearance at the state Capitol in Albany, where he was one of 28 electors who backed Clinton. He received a standing ovation when he was introduced.
Afterward, he bemoaned the “bogus email deal” that he said had hobbled his wife’s candidacy as the news media played up her use of a private email server as secretary of State.
He also complained about “the Russians and the FBI deal,” lamenting what U.S. intelligence agencies say was Russian theft and disclosure of top Democrats’ emails as well as FBI Director James Comey’s public announcements about the investigation into the email server.
But the former president took solace in his wife’s victory margin in the popular vote. “I’m very proud of that,” he told reporters outside the legislative chambers.
Trump has rejected the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia hacked Clinton allies’ email and used WikiLeaks to make them public. He and some key supporters have resisted calls for a congressional investigation.
“For the good of the country, Democrats must stop their cynical attempts to undermine the legitimacy of this election, which Donald Trump won decisively in the Electoral College with more votes than any Republican since 1988,” Republican National Committee co-chairwoman Sharon Day said.
One of the day’s more colorful elector gatherings was in Olympia, Wash. There, in defiance of a state law that binds the state’s 12 electors to vote for the winner of the popular vote, which was Clinton, four of them risked a $1,000 fine by abandoning her. Three voted for Powell and the fourth for Spotted Eagle.
It was the first time in four decades that the state’s electors had not supported its popular-vote winner. Secretary of State Kim Wyman said she would enforce the “faithless voter” law against the wayward electors, but released no details.
Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine received eight Washington votes for vice president, but the remaining four went to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Winona LaDuke, a Native American activist.
Washington is one of 29 states where electors are legally bound to vote for the state’s popular vote winner. A federal judge has rejected a court challenge to the state’s law.
In Maine, one elector, David Bright, tried to cast his electoral ballot for Sanders. When his move was ruled improper, he switched to Clinton. But Sanders ended up getting one vote after all, from the day’s final electoral college meeting, in Hawaii.
In at least two other states that have laws requiring electors to follow the popular vote, electors were replaced when they said they would not vote for Clinton, who had won their states.
In Minnesota, a former Sanders delegate, Muhammad Abdurrahman, said he would cast a blank ballot and was quickly replaced by an alternate who voted for Clinton. In Colorado, Michael Baca, who had led the abortive effort to have Democrat electors ally with Republicans behind someone other than Trump, tried to vote for Kasich, but was also replaced by a pro-Clinton elector.
Rick Anderson in Olympia, Wash., Cathleen Decker in Washington, D.C., Steve Esack in Harrisburg, Pa., Barbara Demick in New York, Jenny Jarvie in Atlanta, Michael A. Memoli in Honolulu, Bill Ruthhart in Madison, Wis., and the Associated Press contributed to this article.
An earlier version of this article said a Texas elector cast a vote for Rand Paul. The vote was for Ron Paul.