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The Electoral College meets — virtually — on Monday to cast ballots for the next president of the United States. In most presidential election years, the vote is a formality that mirrors the certified results and is barely noticed.
But 2020 is no ordinary year. President Trump is refusing to concede to President-elect Joe Biden, who defeated him in both the popular vote (81,282,903 votes to Trump’s 74,223,030) and the Electoral College (306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232). The latter determines who becomes the next president.
Trump is falsely claiming he won while lobbing baseless claims of voter fraud and calling for the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene.
Congressional Republicans have, for the most part, refused to recognize Biden as the next president. More than 100 of them have signed on to what is widely viewed as a hopeless lawsuit filed by the attorney general of Texas seeking to throw out the results in four states that voted for Biden. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pointed to the Electoral College meeting as the date for determining who won.
So, how does the Electoral College work?
The Electoral College comprises 538 members, with each state awarded two plus the number of representatives it sends to the House. The largest number — 55 — is from California; the District of Columbia and the least-populated states each have three.
State legislatures determine how they will choose their electors. In all but two states, the winner of the state’s popular vote receives all the state’s electoral votes. Maine and Nebraska award a share of their delegations based on which candidate got the most votes in their respective congressional districts.
Who gets chosen?
Most are nominated by their state parties, and often include party leaders, state and local elected officials and other high-profile party members. In New York, for example, Hillary Clinton is one of the state’s 29 Democratic electors.
The “safe harbor” deadline for resolving any election disputes was on Dec. 8. All recounts and court contests were required to have been completed by that date, and states to have certified their election results.
What happens Monday?
On Monday, the electors meet in their respective statehouses and cast their ballots for president and vice president. Copies of the ballots are immediately transmitted to the president of the Senate — the sitting vice president of the U.S., currently Mike Pence — as well as the National Archives and Records Administration and the presiding judge in the federal court district where the electors meet.
When are the votes counted?
On Jan. 6, when a new Congress is sworn in, lawmakers will meet in a joint session to open and count the electoral votes that were cast by the Electoral College on Dec. 14.
What will Trump do?
In the end, the president may never concede, continue to falsely claim the election was rigged or stolen and attempt to get Republican state legislatures to disregard the certified results and select electors who will vote for him. None of his attempts have succeeded so far, and there’s no reason to believe any of them will between now and Jan. 20, when Biden will be sworn in as the next president.
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