What is the Electoral College? How does it work? Who are the electors? How do they pick the President? Americans always find themselves asking these questions every four years, and with key electoral events happening soon for the 2020 Election, it is time to answer them.
So what is the Electoral College? When the average citizen votes for President and Vice President, they are not directly voting for the candidates they support. Instead, they are voting for a slate of electors that will vote for the ticket on their behalf. Each state and the District of Columbia has a given number of electors indirectly proportioned to their population. This number is almost always equal to the sum of that state’s Members of Congress. For instance, the most populous state (California) has 55 electors this year, while the least populous state (Wyoming) has three. In most states, whoever wins the popular vote in that state wins all of its electors. Maine and Nebraska employ a more complex district-based system.
Whichever party wins the race in a given state gets to choose its electors. For instance, Republicans have selected Ohio’s 18 electors after Donald Trump won the state. At the same time, Democrats have selected Wisconsin’s 10 electors after Joe Biden won the state. Most of the time, these Electors are retired politicians, local activists, and state party leaders. The Constitution forbids active Members of Congress from being electors.
Once each state has tallied its votes, it must certify the results and officially declare the names of its electors. By congressional provision, the deadline to do this (Safe Harbor Day) was Tuesday December 8. This day actually has played some historical significance, with a key reason for the court-ordered conclusion of the recount in Florida in 2000 being the Safe Harbor deadline having passed. This is the date by which all recounts, audits, and legal challenges to the votes are supposed to be completed.
Having passed Safe Harbor Day, all states have selected their Electoral College delegations. All in all, the certified results give Joe Biden and Kamala Harris a total of 306 electors from 25 states, the District of Columbia, and Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. Donald Trump and Mike Pence have won 232 electors from 25 states and Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. Overall, Biden also handedly carried the popular vote, with 51.3% to Trump’s 46.8%. Unofficial tallies also make clear that this election had the highest voter turnout since 1900, with roughly 67% of all eligible voters having cast ballots.
The 538 electors-designate will vote for President and Vice President on Monday December 14 in their respective State Capitols. In almost all instances, they will vote for the winner of the popular vote in their state. Some states still permit electors to steer away from the choice of their state, though a recent Supreme Court ruling has made this prohibitively difficult.
Among the chosen electors are some famous faces. Stacey Abrams, former gubernatorial candidate, will serve as an elector from Georgia— one of 16 voting for Biden and Harris. Also from Georgia is Congresswoman-elect Nikema Williams, who is taking John Lewis’s seat in Congress next month. From New York, two of the Empire State’s 29 electors will be former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary and presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. These are the people who will officially cast their ballots and actually elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to the White House.
After the Electoral College votes on Monday, the electors’ verdict will be delivered to Washington, DC. After the newly elected Members of Congress are inaugurated on January 3, 2021, Congress will assemble in Joint Session on January 6 to count the votes and officially declare who has been elected President and Vice President.
Presiding over the Session will be the incumbent Vice President, Mike Pence, who lost reelection to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) in November. He will be tasked with announcing the losses of both himself and President Donald Trump.
During the January 6 Joint Session, members may object to the inclusion of certain states, but the objection is only heard if a requisite number of Members from both Chambers of Congress sign onto the written objection. After this, both Chambers would need a majority vote to overturn a state’s votes. This is incredibly unlikely. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) has already pledged to seek to overturn the results of the election via this method, but Republican senators, like Mitt Romney (Utah) and Pat Toomey (Penn.) have showed firm belief that Joe Biden has rightfully been elected President.
After Congress officially announces Biden as President-elect, and Harris as Vice President-elect, the duo will need to wait until January 20, at Noon EST to be sworn in. At a ceremony at the Capitol, Chief Justice John Roberts will swear in Biden, and an unnamed Associate Justice will swear in Harris. At this time, all presidential powers will shift to Biden, and then-former President Trump will be a citizen— just like the rest of us.
The Inauguration is a cornerstone of American democracy, with the newly-inaugurated President taking time to address the nation as Commander-in-Chief. All but three Presidents (John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Johnson) have attended the inaugurations of their elected successors. Though Trump’s attendance is up in the air, he has said that he will concede if Biden wins the Electoral College count, which he almost certainly will.
After a multi-month saga of fraudulent lawsuits, cabinet nominations, and frivolous hearings, the Presidential Election of 2020 has reached its penultimate state, with Joe Biden to be elected President, and Kamala Harris to be elected Vice President next Monday by the Electoral College. The democratic ideas of America have withstood another turbulent four years.
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