Members of the Electoral College meet on Monday to officially elect Joe Biden, a moment some Republican lawmakers have targeted as the end of President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the results as far as they’re concerned.
The constitutionally mandated procedure across the 50 states and the District of Columbia usually passes with little notice. But this year, it may help conclude a chaotic election season punctuated by by Trump’s refusal to concede and his frequent insistence, without evidence, that the vote was “rigged” against him.
Many prominent Republicans joined the president in declining to recognize Biden’s victory a month ago, saying Trump had a right to pursue legal challenges. That process will have played out once the electors reach a majority of 270 ballots for Biden. Congress will then officially count the Electoral College votes and declare the winner on Jan. 6.
Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, told reporters last week that the election will be “over” once the Electoral College votes.
“The Electoral College obviously brings some finality to this,” Thune said. And Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump ally, said when asked whether the president should concede, “I’ll talk to you December the 14th.”
Retiring Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the election should be over after Monday’s vote, and that he hopes Trump then “puts the country first” and congratulates Biden. But asked on “Fox News Sunday” whether he’ll stop contesting the election after Monday, Representative Steve Scalise, the House Republican whip, wouldn’t say, and insisted “let the legal process play out.”
Electors, who are generally selected by their political parties, are committed to vote for the winner of the popular vote in each state. Biden won 306 electoral votes from 25 states and the District of Columbia. Trump captured 232 electoral votes from the 25 states he won.
Most electors are meeting in their state capitals with restricted access and social distancing because of the coronavirus pandemic. Arizona isn’t publicly disclosing the location of its gathering to keep it “low key.”
Even though the outcome has been decided and more than 50 post-election lawsuits challenging the results by Trump’s campaign and its allies were rejected, the president and some of his supporters continue to say he won based on groundless claims of widespread fraud.
Trump said he’ll continue with legal challenges even after the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday rejected the bid by Texas to nullify the election results in four pivotal states—a case the president had called “the big one.” But he acknowledged that time is running out.
“We’re going to speed it up as much as we can, but you can only go so fast. They give us very little time,” Trump said in an interview that aired Sunday on Fox News. He added that he was “disappointed” in the U.S. Supreme Court, three of whose nine justices he appointed, for not having the “courage” to overturn the election.
The president has pressured Republicans in Congress and at state level to help him overturn the election, including by urging state GOP legislative leaders to ignore the popular vote and appoint rival Trump electors. They’ve declined, saying they don’t have that power.
Rick Bloomingdale, a Biden elector in Pennsylvania, said he’s confident his vote will be counted and that Trump’s efforts to overturn the election will fail.
“At noon on Jan. 20th, Joe Biden’s going to be president of the United States,” said Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. “It’s mind-boggling to me that we have people that are actually trying conduct a coup and take the votes away from the voters.”
There were protests against Trump’s election outside Electoral College meetings in some states in 2016, and there could be this year as well. Trump supporters gathered to protest in Washington on Saturday, at times clashing with counterprotesters and police.
Following armed protests in Michigan and arrests in what the FBI called a foiled kidnapping plot against Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, police will escort the state’s 16 electors for Biden from a parking garage to the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, said elector Chris Cracchiolo, chairman of the Grand Traverse Democratic Party in the northwest of the state and vice chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party.
“At the time I volunteered to do this, I thought it was somewhat ceremonial,” Cracchiolo said. “Since Nov. 3, the magnitude and importance of this role seems to magnify every day.”
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero, one of Arizona’s 11 Democratic electors for Biden, said she’s not concerned about protesters because there will be security, and not worried about attempts to overturn the results because “I have faith in our courts.”
Biden elector and Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said Georgia could see further attempts to flip the vote even as the Electoral College meets, “given what we have already seen here. At this point, nobody would be surprised at anything.”
When U.S. voters mark ballots in a presidential race every four years, they’re technically voting for a candidate’s slate of electors, who cast that state’s number of electoral votes — one for each U.S. representative and senator. The candidate who gets a majority of electoral votes, 270, wins the presidency.
Beyond Monday, the next step is for Congress to tally the electoral votes from each state in a joint session on Jan. 6 with Vice President Mike Pence presiding. There could be drama if at least one member of both the House and the Senate objects to a state’s slate of electors or votes; it would require each chamber to debate and vote on the objection.
Republican Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama has said he plans to make an objection, but so far no senator has committed to joining him. Seventy-five Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania also sent a letter to the state’s congressional delegation this month urging them to object.
There were objections raised in the House in 2000 and 2016 that failed for lack of a participating senator. An objection in 2004 to the Ohio results by former Democratic U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer of California and former Democratic U.S. Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio delayed the counting of electoral votes until it was debated and voted down.
Any objection that reached a vote is likely to fail, with Democrats holding a majority in the House and enough Republican senators having acknowledged Biden’s victory, said Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford University law professor and election-law expert.
Realistically, then, Monday’s meeting of electors is the last step for anyone else waiting for the presidential election process to play out, Persily said.
“Constitutionally, that would be end of the road,” he said.
–With assistance from Margaret Newkirk, David Welch, Amanda Albright and Brenna Goth.