Members of the electoral college will meet in their respective states on Monday to officially vote for the presidency. Usually, the process is little more than a formal obligation to approve the results of the November elections.
Not this year.
For weeks, President Trump and his allies pressured Republican officials to ignore the popular vote in tight states won by President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and nominate their own voters who would favor Mr. Trump. . They also called on the courts to hand the victory over to the president in the states he lost.
But Republican state judges and lawmakers showed little will to overthrow the democratic process, and voters stayed. As they vote on Monday, Mr. Trump is essentially guaranteed to end the day as he started it: one president for one term.
Here is more information on how voting works and the next steps in the process:
Can I watch the Electoral College vote?
Yes, most states offer live broadcasts to watch the proceedings, including the crucial battlegrounds won by Mr. Biden. Here are the links for four of them: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Georgia.
Voters do not meet in one place or at the same time; some start at 10 a.m. EST, and most vote in the afternoon. California, the crucial state for Mr. Biden to get 270 electoral college votes, meets at 5 p.m. EST.
Voters from each state and the District of Columbia meet at a location chosen by the state legislature, most often the state capital. Delaware voters gather in a gymnasium. Nevada is the only state to hold its meeting virtually this year.
How does the electoral college vote work?
Voters vote for the president and vice-president by paper ballot. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia legally require their voters to pick whoever won the state’s popular vote, so there should be no surprises. The other 17 states do not “bind” their voters, which means they can vote for whoever they want.
Voters were chosen by state parties (if Mr. Biden won a state, for example, the Democratic voters list casts the votes). Typically, voters are political activists, government officials, donors, and people with close connections to candidates – meaning they are very likely to vote for the candidate they are committed to supporting. In 2016, seven voters cast protest votes for someone other than their party’s candidate. But the likelihood of “cheating voters” switching sides and handing over the election to Mr. Trump is essentially zero.
Once voters have voted, the votes are counted and voters sign certificates showing the results. These are matched with certificates from the governor’s office showing the state’s total votes. Certificates are sent to Vice President Mike Pence, in his capacity as Speaker of the Senate; the Federal Register Office; the Secretary of State of the State concerned; and the Chief Justice of the Federal District Court where the voters meet.
What happens next?
Congress formally counts the votes in a joint session held in the House chamber on January 6, chaired by Mr Pence. Mr. Pence opens the certificates – in alphabetical order by state – and presents them to four “tellers,” two from the House and two from the Senate, who count the votes. When Mr. Biden reaches a majority with 270 votes, Mr. Pence announces the result.
The procedure is strictly prescribed by federal law, up to where the various politicians sit in the chamber. (Mr. Pence takes the chair’s place, Chair Nancy Pelosi sits to his left, and the “tellers” are seated at the clerks’ offices.)
The session cannot be terminated until the count is complete and the result has been publicly declared. At this point, the election is officially decided. The only remaining task is the inauguration on January 20.
Which Congress is leading the process?
Since the new members will be sworn in on January 3, the next Congress will hold this joint session. Democrats will control the House. And Republicans will control the Senate regardless of the results of the second round in Georgia on January 5, as Mr Pence will still be in office to act as a tie-breaker if the chamber is divided by 50 to 50.
Can members of Congress block the results?
No debate is allowed during the counting of the electoral votes. But once the result is read, members of Congress have an opportunity to voice their concerns.
Any objection to a state’s performance must be in writing and signed by at least one Senator and one member of the House. The two chambers would then separate to debate the objection. Each member of Congress can speak only once – for five minutes – and after two hours debate is suspended. Each organ then votes on whether to reject the state’s results.
Since the Electoral Count Act was passed in 1887, there have only been two instances of Congressional objections, in 1969 and 2005. Neither the House nor the Senate have been passed.
How likely is Congress to change the outcome?
Preventing Mr. Biden from taking office remains a long-term strategy for Republicans.
For an objection to be upheld, it must be adopted by both chambers of Congress by a simple majority. If the vote followed party lines, Republicans could not block Mr. Biden’s victory.
Democrats control the House, so an objection would already be doomed. In the Senate, Democrats would only need to choose a few Republicans on their side to vote against the objection. A number of Republican senators have declared Mr. Biden president-elect.
With some Trump allies already anticipating objections, the congressional session is likely to be a good political theater. But the process is unlikely to change the outcome of the elections.