Election Day may feel like an era ago but the presidential saga isn’t over yet. Now it’s time for Congress to take centre stage – and there’s already political drama aplenty.
From constitutional deadlines to congressional objections, there’s a lot to explain.
First things first…
What are electoral votes?
When Americans go to the polls in presidential elections they’re actually voting for a group of officials who make up the electoral college.
The word “college” here simply refers to a group of people with a shared task. These people are electors and their job is to choose the president and vice-president, based on the popular vote of their states.
There are 538 electors in total, divvyed up among the states. Each elector represents one electoral vote, and a candidate needs to gain a majority of the votes – 270 or more – to win the presidency.
The electoral college meets every four years, a few weeks after election day, to cast their electoral votes.
What’s Congress got to do with it?
Congress will finalise the results of the 2020 election by certifying the electoral college votes. It’s a part of the process enshrined in the Constitution.
All 50 states have certified the election result, some after recounts and legal appeals.
On 14 December, members of the electoral college sent off their votes in sealed certificates to Congress from across the country.
On 6 January, these certificates will enter the Capitol in mahogany ballot boxes.
Members of both the House of Representatives and Senate from both parties will read the votes out in alphabetical state order and tally them up.
Vice-president Mike Pence, who is the president of the Senate, will preside and eventually declare the winner.
His role as president of the Senate is to “open all the certificates” in the presence of the House of Representatives and the Senate, according to the US Constitution.
OK, so once he does that, Biden is winner and we all go home?
Not this year. Keep reading.
Will results be contested at this point?
Taking their cue from the outgoing president, several lawmakers have said they will raise objections.
This is against the advice of Senate leader Mitch McConnell.
An objection will be heard only if a member of the House and Senate both submit it. Then, the two chambers are allocated two hours per objection to debate the matter before voting on whether to uphold it or not.
For a state’s electoral votes to be tossed out, majorities in both the House and Senate must vote to do so. With the House in Democratic control and the Senate with Republicans, this would be all but impossible to pull off.
While there is certainly precedent for post-election pushback, and objections have been recorded before (most recently in 2005), no debate has ever resulted in electoral votes being thrown out.