Long a mere formality, a vote on Monday by members of the US Electoral College to formally recognise Joe Biden as the next US president has taken on unusual import this year with Donald Trump stubbornly refusing to admit defeat.
The results of the November 3 vote have been certified by each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia; the Democrat won with a record 81.3 million votes, or 51.3% of those cast, to 74.2 million, and 46.8%, for the Republican president.
But in the United States, the occupant of the White House is chosen by indirect universal suffrage, with each state allocating its electors — whose numbers are essentially based on population —
to the candidate who carried the state.
The results confirm an easy victory for Biden, with 306 of the 538 electoral votes, to 232 for Trump, with 270 required for election.
Electoral College members meet Monday to formalise the process,
though the electors actually meet separately in each state.
Biden will then deliver a speech in the evening to celebrate the latest confirmation of his win and “the strength and resilience” of US democracy —
a clear jab at Trump’s unprecedented stance.
Electors are local political officials or activists, civil society figures or friends of candidates.
Most are unknown to the wider public, though national personalities occasionally take part — like Hillary Clinton,
who lost to Trump in the 2016 election but who will vote Monday in New York to confirm President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
NO TRUMP CONCESSION
Although there have been a few “faithless electors” in past years —
who cast votes for someone other than the candidate who won their state —
there have never been enough to change an election outcome.
So Biden’s victory will become all the more official on Monday.
But Trump, still the legal occupant of the White House until January 20,
has continued to make baseless assertions that the November vote was the
“MOST CORRUPT ELECTION IN U.S. HISTORY,” as he tweeted yet again on Sunday.
He added: “How do states and politicians confirm an election where corruption and irregularities are documented throughout?”
In fact, his campaign has not been able to document any widespread fraud, and its legal challenges to the vote —
in dozens of suits, heard by scores of judges —
have virtually all been dismissed, often in scathing language.
AN ULTIMATE HUMILIATION
In an ultimate humiliation, the US Supreme Court —
despite having a conservative majority assured by three Trump appointees —
on Friday bluntly refused to even consider two Republican challenges to the vote.
Large numbers of Republican lawmakers are on record as backing Trump’s false claims of fraud.
Some may finally be willing to recognise Biden’s victory once the US Electoral College ratifies it.
But with polls showing that as few as one in four Republican voters accept
the election results as valid, Trump is not expected to give in anytime soon.
“WE HAVE JUST BEGUN TO FIGHT!!!” he tweeted.
This weekend, when asked on Fox News whether he would attend Biden’s inauguration on January 20 —
as demanded by protocol and centuries of tradition —
the former real estate magnate snapped, “I don’t want to talk about that.”
The president might yet seek to use America’s drawn-out transition process in one last attempt to reverse the outcome:
some elected officials allied with Trump have speculated about contesting the result on January 6 when Congress is to formally validate the Electoral Congress tally.
Such a maneuver is given virtually no chance of succeeding.
Regardless, Trump’s struggle against a repeatedly confirmed result seems sure to leave Biden facing a steep challenge with the country more divided than ever.
What happens after Election Day
We’ve sketched out the legal mechanisms that lead from Election Day to Inauguration Day. Next to each item below is an icon that denotes whether state laws () or federal laws (
) are relevant.
November 3 – Election Day
While many millions of Americans cast their ballots in the weeks leading up to Election Day, either by mail or as an in-person absentee voter, US law says Election Day occurs on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Votes were counted across the country on Election Day.
November 4 – November 23
Votes were counted.
Mail-in ballots had to be postmarked by November 3 in every US state, but they could be received later and still be counted in many states.
November 10 – December 11
States certify election results.
Each state does it a little bit differently, but starting a week after Election Day, state governments began to certify their election results.
Georgia certified its results three times, following a full audit and a recount requested by President Donald Trump’s campaign.
“Safe harbor” to determine election results and assign electors.
Under the Electoral Count Act, this is the date by which states are meant to have counted votes, settled disputes, and determined the winner of their US Electoral College votes.
Governors are supposed to create certificates of ascertainment listing the winner of the election and the slate of electors, and those results are shielded from further challenge.
US Electoral College votes cast.
In law, this date is the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. This year that falls on December 14.
US Electoral College will meet in their respective states and cast paper ballots for US President.
The results are then tabulated, signed, sealed and sent by registered mail to the vice president in Washington.
Many states have laws requiring their electors to support the winner of their state’s election.
US Electoral College votes must arrive in Washington.
The certified electoral votes have nine days to get from their states to Capitol Hill.
New Congress is sworn in.
Members of the House and new members of the Senate take the oath of office at noon. This is the official start of the 117th Congress.
However, Georgia’s two Senate seats will remain unfilled until after a runoff election scheduled for January 5.
US Electoral College votes counted in Congress.
Members of the House and the Senate will meet in the House chamber.
The President of the Senate — that’s Vice President Mike Pence — will preside over the session and the electoral votes will be read and counted in alphabetical order by two appointees each from the House and Senate.
They will then give their tallies to Pence, who will announce the results and listen for objections.
If there are objections, the House and Senate consider them separately to decide how to count those votes.
There are 538 electoral votes — one for each congressman and senator plus three for Washington, DC.
If no candidate gets to a majority — that’s 270 — then the 435 members of the House decide the election.
Each state gets a vote. So while there are more Democrats in the House, Republicans, as of now, control more state delegations, so it is possible the House could pick Donald Trump even though there is a Democratic majority.
The House has until noon on January 20 to pick the President. If they can’t, it would be the vice president or the next person eligible in the line of presidential succession.
A new president takes the oath of office at noon. If the President-elect dies between Election Day and Inauguration, the vice president-elect takes the oath of office and becomes President.
In a disputed election, if the House has not chosen a President but the Senate has chosen a vice president, the vice president-elect becomes acting president until the House makes a choice.
And if there’s no president-elect and no vice president-elect, the House appoints a president until one is chosen.