Voting in the Electoral College: the rules and their application

Voting in the Electoral College: the rules and their application

The 538 members of the Electoral College formally vote for the next president of the United States on Monday
The 538 members of the Electoral College gather Monday to formally elect the next president of the United States. As previously reported, the vote is expected to be an important step toward confirming Democrat Joe Biden’s victory over incumbent President Donald Trump.

What happens on Monday

The winner of the U.S. presidential election is not determined by popular vote, but by a system called the Electoral College, which is mandated by the Constitution and allocates electoral votes among the states and the District of Columbia based on their representation in Congress.

Before the election, the leaders of the two major parties at the state level selected their electors.

Technically, Americans vote for the slate of electors, not the candidates themselves.

The electors are usually loyal party supporters who pledge to vote for the candidate with the most votes in their state.

Trump, who refuses to admit defeat and claims widespread election fraud, has filed a series of lawsuits and talked to lawmakers in an effort to build his electoral rolls in states where Biden won. These efforts were fruitless.

There are a total of 538 electors in the Electoral College, so at least 270 votes are needed to win the election.

Most of the electors are not well-known figures, but this year they included former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, who previously ran for governor of that state.

The state legislature determines when and where the electors gather. In Nevada, they gather virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. In most states, the ceremonies are broadcast live.

Electors will sign certificates with their votes, which will be sent to government officials, including Vice President Mike Pence. Along with these documents go the certificates signed by governors certifying the results of the popular vote, which have already been approved by all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The results of the Electoral College vote will be officially counted by the new Congress on January 6 in a special joint session chaired by Pence.

At that point, the outcome of the election will be officially confirmed. Biden will be sworn in as president during the inauguration ceremony at noon on Jan. 20, as required by the Constitution.

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Can the electors vote against the outcome of the popular vote in their state?

Yes, but it happens very rarely.

In 2016, seven out of 538 voters voted for the wrong candidate to win the popular vote in their state. That’s an uncharacteristically high rate.

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have laws in place to deal with so-called “dishonest electors.” Some states impose monetary penalties, while others revoke the vote and replace the elector.

A scenario in which “unscrupulous electors” would bring Trump a last-minute victory seems almost impossible.

Biden had 306 votes and Trump had 232, so it would take as many as 38 “dishonest electors” to change the result.

Could Congress not recognize the electoral votes for Biden?

It is theoretically possible, but such a move is unlikely to work because the House of Representatives is controlled by Democrats.

There is a law allowing individual members of the House and Senate to challenge the results during the January 6 special session, but this procedure is rarely used.

The objection must be supported by at least one member of the House and one senator.

The two chambers then meet separately to discuss the objections, followed by a vote.

The objection must be passed in both chambers by a simple majority vote. If the votes split along party lines, Republicans would not be able to block a Biden victory, since the House of Representatives has a majority of seats held by Democrats.

Even the Senate, which is currently controlled by Republicans, would be obstructed. Several Republican senators have already called Biden the president-elect and Republican Senator Mitt Romney, who ran for president in 2012, told reporters that it would be “insane” for Congress to reject the Electoral College vote.