Thursday, December 9

Vote counting in the US Congress: what you need to know

(CNN) — The next crucial step in the long overdue American version of democracy is upon us, and so is the last chance in President Donald Trump’s desperate quest to overturn the election results he lost.

Wednesday is the culmination of the Electoral College process, when the votes of the states determined by the results of the November 3 general elections are formally counted during a joint session of Congress. We know the results: Joe Biden won 306 electoral votes, surpassing Trump’s 232, but the session of Congress seals the victory of the Democrat, before his inauguration, on January 20.

The series of events of months between Election Day and Inauguration Day are established by the Constitution and federal law, and are normally only ceremonial. As Trump continues to pressure officials in key states to review his vote counts, it will be Republican lawmakers acting on his behalf who will carry out the latest gasp of openly undemocratic objections to accepting electoral votes from undecided states that Trump lost. .

Read on for what we know about what will happen on Wednesday and a brief summary of how we got here. If you’re interested in reading more, here’s a report from the Congressional Research Service on how the count should proceed. And here is the text of the Electoral Counting Law of 1887, which created the current system.

Again, what is the Electoral College?

Americans do not directly elect the president. Instead, voters who go to the polls on Election Day are technically voting for electors who, according to the system established by the Constitution, meet in their respective states and vote for president and vice president. Here is the schedule:

  • Voters voted in their states on Election Day, November 3 or earlier.
  • The states counted the ballots and resolved electoral disputes in court on or before December 8.
  • Voters cast their votes for the winner from each state on December 14.
  • Votes are counted in Congress on January 6.
  • Joe Biden will be sworn in on January 20 at noon.

What exactly will happen during the ceremony on Wednesday, January 6?

What we will see this Wednesday is Vice President Mike Pence, who is technically president of the US Senate, convene both houses at 1 p.m. ET to officially count Electoral College votes, which are traditionally presented in large and ornate mahogany cases with leather lining.

Four legislators designated as “tellers,” two from the House of Representatives and two from the Senate, will read each state’s voting certificates. They will do it alphabetically, starting with Alabama.

The process generally takes about an hour, but this year could take many hours because some Republicans plan to oppose the results of certain states, a step that will force up to two hours of debate by each state. All such objections will be put to a vote and are expected to fail.

At the end, Pence will read the vote totals that qualify Biden to take the oath of office on January 20.

Scrutiners? Voting certificates? What language is this?

This is the legal jargon of the 19th century. This official scripted program was established in the Electoral Counting Act of 1887, a law passed after the contested election of 1876.

The tellers are appointed by the House of Representatives and the Senate to read the verification certificates. This year they are Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Representatives Zoe Lofgren of California and Rodney Davis of Illinois. They are the chairmen and high-ranking members of the rules commissions of both houses.

Voting certificates are the official counts of the electoral vote for each state. Copies are sent to Washington for counting, but other copies are also kept in each state and in the courts for backup.

What opportunities do Republicans have to question the results?

The objections are why this year’s ceremonial recount could take so long. Legislators can object if they feel that the voters of a state were not properly or legally chosen. What is different this year is that they will force the debate on those objections.

Legislators have every right to object to the electoral votes of a state and they often do. Look here to see Biden, then still Vice President of the United States, rejecting Democratic objections to Trump’s election during the 2017 version of this ceremony.

This year, for the first time since California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer opposed President George W. Bush’s victory in Ohio in 2005, senators have said they will join the House of Representatives objections, forcing the debate. (The only other time this has happened since 1887 was in 1969, when a voter objected to the popular results to vote for George Wallace.)

For each written objection signed by a congressman and a senator, the joint session is stopped and both houses suspend the session for separate consideration. Then both the House of Representatives and the Senate vote on whether to support the objection.

What happens when there is an objection?

An objection must be presented in writing and supported by a congressman and a senator. Then the two houses, the House of Representatives and the Senate, adjourn to consider the objection.

These sessions, which could have the feel of a trial of sorts when lawmakers present their cases, can only last a maximum of two hours. Each legislator can speak for up to five minutes, although they can give their time to other legislators. Then both houses vote separately.

All of this happens simultaneously, so be prepared to alternate between the currents of the House and the Senate.

How many objections will there be?

We do not know. Lawmakers supporting Trump have suggested they will oppose electoral votes from six swing states that elected Biden: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Will they object and force a two-hour debate on each one? That remains to be seen. But if they sell out as much time as possible, that would mean the process will last until early Thursday morning.

Could these objections jeopardize the outcome?

No. Democrats have a majority in the House of Representatives, so no objection will pass that house. Several Republicans in the Senate have already said they will vote against the objections, making it impossible for an objection to pass there either.

But there will be a slew of Republican lawmakers, perhaps 140 in the House of Representatives, a majority of Republicans there, and more than a dozen Republican senators who will vote to uphold the objections and undermine Biden’s victory. That’s a remarkable endorsement of the undemocratic behavior of a major political party and should be remembered every time one of those Republicans talks about democracy in the future.

Are you expecting any other surprises?

There are sure to be protests. Trump has encouraged his supporters to also attend the Capitol while the votes are being counted.

Also, you have to watch Pence. He plays a highly visible role in this process: asking the tellers to count the votes, maintaining order in the joint session, responding to objections, and ultimately announcing the official vote count that will officially make Biden president. elect.

Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert had led a legal effort to force Pence not to recognize the electoral votes of swing states, but Pence had responded in court that the lawsuit was inappropriate and a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit.

If Pence tried to reject a vote, his actions as Senate president could be appealed and overturned, according to former Senate MP Alan Frumin.

Even if Trump’s allies could somehow scrap electoral votes they don’t like, that wouldn’t make Trump the next president. If no candidate has 270 electoral votes, and Trump does not have them, the election of the president goes to the House of Representatives. Each state’s delegation gets one vote.

While Democrats control the chamber, Republicans actually control more state delegations, so this would be to Trump’s advantage. But again, with some brave Republicans in the House and Senate rejecting the effort of their party colleagues to overthrow the election, the only realistic end result is that Pence, after all objections are heard and voted on and count all electoral votes, officially announce Biden’s victory. The end.

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