The Electoral College is meeting Monday in one of the most important steps of a United States presidential election cycle that has brought new drama to the usually administrative process.
Eligible voters in the US cast their votes on November 3. Since then, states have been determining and certifiying their final results. As of December 8, all 50 states and the District of Columbia had met the deadline to finalise their results and appoint their so-called “electors” as attempts by President Donald Trump to change those results uniformly failed.
The electors are gathering in their respective states throughout the day on Monday to cast their votes for the president and vice president. The votes by the 538 electors, not the national popular vote, will officially determine who won the election.
Electors have voted in all but four of the 50 US states, including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states where Trump had tried to contest Biden’s victories.
As of 21:30 GMT, 229 electors have cast ballots for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, and 240 electors have cast ballots for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice president-elect Kamala Harris.
Biden is currently projected to win 306 electoral votes based on the number of states he won in the election. That’s well above the threshold of 270 needed for victory, which Biden will surpass after California’s 55 electors cast their votes for him in the 22:00 GMT hour. Trump is projected to secure 232 votes.
On January 6, Congress will meet to approve the Electoral College vote, officially solidifying the victor, who will take office on January 20.
Despite the official nature of Monday’s voting, Trump and his supporters are not conceding and are continuing to lodge unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud and to try to seek legal recourse.
…Tens of millions of haphazardly ballots sent, with some people getting two, three, or four ballots. We will never give up!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2020
US Representative Steve Scalise, the second-highest ranking Republican in the House, said Sunday that Trump should continue challenging the election result legally, even after Trump and his backers have repeatedly failed in courts from the US Supreme Court on down.
“Let the legal process play out,” Scalise said.
White House senior adviser Stephen Miller told Fox News on Monday that “The only date in the Constitution is January 20th”, which technically is true, however, the process leading up to that date is codified in US law, beginning with Monday’s Electoral College vote.
Under the Electoral College system, every state has a group of “electors” who are chosen in most cases by political parties in that state.
Often, both political parties select a slate of electors before the election. The group from the party with the winning candidate then go on to become the official electors.
Those electors are often former elected federal officials, current state and local officials, political loyalists, activists or party hopefuls.
Under the US Constitution, the only people prohibited from being electors are members of Congress or those who currently hold federal office.
This year, the most prominent elector is former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who will vote in New York, where she is a resident.
Other electors include Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Democratic nominee for Georgia governor who has been credited with helping Biden win the state and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, who is considered a potential 2024 Republican Presidential candidate.
Electors can also be used to make political statements. For instance, of the three electors for the District of Columbia, two are front-line healthcare workers. They are also all women, in honour of the 100-year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment to the US constitution, which gave women the right to vote.
The number of electors a state has is directly proportional to how many elected officials represent that state in the House of Representatives and the Senate, collectively known as the US Congress.
The House has 435 seats, which are allocated to the country’s 50 states.
The seats are apportioned based on each state’s population, which is determined in a count of US citizens known as the census. That count is done every 10 years.
Every state, even those with tiny populations, is guaranteed at least one seat in the House.
Additionally, every state, regardless of population, elects two senators to the US Senate. That chamber has 100 seats.
So, there is a total of 535 electors for 50 US states in a presidential election cycle.
The federal District of Columbia, home to the US capital, also gets three electors, making the total number of electors who will vote for the president and vice president 538.
Electors are gathering on Monday in places decided by their state’s legislature, usually the capital, and are casting their ballots by paper – one for president and one for vice president.
In 48 states, these electors have “pledged” or are required by law to vote for the presidential and vice-presidential candidates that receive the most votes in their respective state.
Two states – Maine and Nebraska – have slightly different systems: Two electors “pledge” to vote for the candidate that wins the state’s overall popular vote, while a third elector “pledges” to vote based on which candidate wins the most Congressional districts in that state.
After electors cast their votes, the results are tallied and the electors sign six certificates with the results. Those are then paired with a certificate from the state’s governor detailing the final vote totals.
The paired certificates will then be mailed to various people specified by law, most importantly Vice President Mike Pence, who is also the president of the Senate.
The certificates mailed to Pence will be officially tallied when Congress moves to approve the Electoral College Vote on January 6.
On that date, if one member from both the House and the Senate objects to some electoral votes, the chambers will meet separately to debate the issue.
Both chambers must then vote in favour of objecting to those votes to alter what has been submitted by the states. Because the House is controlled by Democrats, any objections are not likely to be sustained.
If there are no objections, the vote is officially approved.
Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that require their electors to vote for the candidate who won the popular vote in the state. Electors in other states have “pledged” to vote for the winner of the popular vote.
This is usually not a problem, as electors are typically selected by party whose candidate won in the state, and they are usually enthusiastic about supporting that candidate.
However, there is no constitutional provision or federal law that requires state electors to vote based on the state’s election outcome.
This allows for a rare phenomenon known as a “faithless elector”.
There has never been a presidential contest decided by “faithless electors”, but in 1836, 23 electors from Virginia refused to vote for Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Richard M Johnson despite him winning the majority of votes in the state.
That effort by “faithless actors” resulted in Johnson tying his vice presidential opponent.
In the event of a vice presidential electoral college tie, the Senate votes to decide the winner.