Across all statehouses amid a global pandemic, 538 electors are set to convene to cast their votes for either President-elect Joe Biden or Trump, reflecting the popular votes in their states.
Although protests are likely at some capitol buildings, the outcome should offer little suspense. Biden is set to end the day with 306 electoral votes, topping Trump’s 232.
Historically, the Electoral College meeting is a formality given little attention. But Trump’s unprecedented efforts to overturn the election have magnified every turn in the election calendar and shined the spotlight on electors who are usually overlooked.
Raising the stakes, some Senate Republicans circled the date as the moment they would finally recognize Biden as the president-elect. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last month said “the Electoral College will determine the winner.”
“This is the moment of truth, and something that is already inexorable becomes fully locked in,” said Ben Wikler, a Wisconsin elector pledged for Biden and chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party. “This year, more than ever, it’s almost a sacred act to cast the official votes that have been determined by voters to choose the most powerful person in the word.”
No competing slates; ‘faithless electors’ curbed
The Electoral College meeting comes after Trump, who has leveled baseless claims of widespread voter fraud to argue the election was stolen, has lost a barrage of lawsuits seeking to overturn the election.
He also failed to convince state lawmakers in states he lost like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia to certify their own separate slates of Trump electors. It means Monday will lack the drama of competing slates of electors casting votes, spoiling a dubious legal strategy pursued by the Trump team.
“We’ve seen pretty clear signals from state legislators that’s not going to happen,” said Rebecca Green, director of William and Mary School of Law’s election law program. She said such a scenario presented the biggest opportunity for “mischief on Dec. 14,” adding the ingredients aren’t there to “push forward any kind of fireworks.”
Eliminating more suspense, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in July states can insist members of the Electoral College support the winner of the popular vote on Election Day, prohibiting rogue electors in most states. Thirty-two states don’t allow these so-called “faithless” electors.
“You can expect, as a result of that ruling, a lot fewer shenanigans,” Green said.
Focus of Trump, allies shifts to Jan. 6
With Trump facing a loss in the Electoral College, the president and his allies have shifted their focus to Jan. 6, when a joint session of Congress meets to count the electoral votes and certify a winner.
But expected efforts by Republican House members to contest individual state’s electors were dealt a blow Tuesday when most states – with their election disputes resolved –appeared to meet the safe harbor deadline constitutionally guaranteeing their electors are counted.
Matthew Weil, director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Elections Project, said the Electoral College vote marks a “turning point” for Trump and his election challenge. Its action sets in motion the effective final act when Congress weighs certification prior to the Jan. 20 inauguration.
“I can’t imagine anything that could change the outcome once Congress acts,” Weil said.
Who are the electors?
Americans who voted in last month’s presidential election voted to appoint electors pledged for either Biden, Trump or nominees of third parties to formally vote for president. A state’s population determines its number of electors.
These electors are mostly party activists – in some cases state lawmakers, Congress members or even governors – appointed by state parties earlier this year.
Most aren’t household names. Some are more well-known such as former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who is an elector in Georgia; Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, an elector in his state; and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, each electors in New York.
Electoral College members pledged for Trump will convene in states the president won, while Biden electors will meet in states the former vice president carried, based on the certified election results in each state. Biden electors received notification to appear from governors or secretaries of states in the six states Trump has contested: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada.
Biden electors feel the weight of their votes
The meetings – many begin at noon or 2 p.m. – are open to the public and typically streamed live online. Most begin with the national anthem. Some states kicked off past meetings with colonial-style military bands marching in or other forms of pageantry. That’s less likely to be the case during the pandemic.
Meetings usually last under an hour, sometimes no longer than 20 minutes. Secretaries of states or other state election officials typically preside over the gatherings. With a room full of electors from the same party, there’s no debate, but some electors use the time to give speeches on democracy and the historic moment.
“We’re gathering at the state capitol at noon. That’s what I know,” said Wendy Davis, a city commissioner from Rome, Georgia, who is a first-time elector for Biden. A longtime party activist in a state that hadn’t voted Democrat since 1992, Davis said the state’s 16 electors reflect the diverse coalition that turned the state blue.
“It’s enormous. It’s such an honor. I still don’t think the enormity has sunk in because we’ve been so busy working hard on the election.”
Electors cast their votes for president and vice president on separate ballots. They then sign six vote certificates, one to be delivered to Vice President Mike Pence as president of the U.S. Senate, two to the state’s secretary of state, two the U.S. archivists and one to a federal judge in the district of the meeting.
It wouldn’t be unprecedented to see protests. Trump critics gathered outside several capitol buildings in 2016 to voice their opposition to his Electoral College victory.
Amid the uproar as Trump fights the election results, some Democratic electors said they’ve heard from Trump supporters ahead of the vote.
Marseille Allen, one of Michigan’s 16 Democratic electors, said the electors each received an email from elderly man urging her not to vote for Biden but said it didn’t come off as threatening. Allen, a state probation agent from Flint, Michigan, said as an African American woman, voting in the Electoral College holds added significance.
“To be able to actually cast my vote for president when at one point this same institution didn’t even consider me a full human being,” Allen said, “it’s an honor I will never, ever be able to put into words.”
GOP electors in states Trump lost left with no options
As for electors pledged to Trump in disputed states, several contacted by USA TODAY said they have no current plans to show up at their statehouses in protest or stage their own meetings.
“I have no directions whatsoever,” said Stanley Grot, a Trump Michigan elector from Shelby Township, where he’s the town’s clerk. “Of course anything can change between now and the 14th. At this point, I have no other plans.”
Ken Carroll, a Trump elector from Georgia and plaintiff in a lawsuit that sought to halt the state from certifying Georgia’s election, said Georgia Republican electors don’t plan to meet Monday. He worries about “where our country’s going,” but said it’s “never even crossed our minds” to try to intervene with the Electoral College vote.
“You may have some groups that may show up on their own and protest it,” said Carroll, a party activist form Easton, Georgia, who works in insurance. “But I think they would be more likely to protest the election itself, not the electors.”
Mary Buestrin, a Trump elector from Wisconsin, said state Republican leaders told her to “keep the date open” but heard nothing more. “Nothing has been going on that I know of.” A GOP elector during past elections, Buestrin said she can’t envision a chaotic scene.
“It never has been, and someone’s always lost and someone’s alway won. It’s been a very civil, very short meeting that is held.”
Experts say objections unlikely to work in Congress
During the Jan. 6 meeting of Congress, Pence – as president of the Senate – will open the electoral certificates from each state alphabetically to count the votes. Any objections require support from one House member and one senator to be considered. The two chambers would meet separately to vote on any disputes.
More than 60 state Republican lawmakers from Pennsylvania have called on the state’s congressional delegation to reject Biden’s victory in the state. Attracting applause from Trump, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said he hopes to “reject the count of particular states” like Georgia and Pennsylvania.
But legal experts said such threats will likely amount to little more than theater.
Ned Foley, director of the election law program at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, said even “if the off-chance, by surprise, there are rival submission of electoral votes,” it would lack the votes to move forward. The House, controlled by Democrats, would quickly shoot down the effort, he said, and enough Republican senators would likely oppose the move as well.
“It may require a vote, there may be a little theater or drama on Jan. 6, but as a practical matter it’s not going to affect who gets inaugurated on Jan, 20,” Foley said.
In 2016, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wa., rose to object to the certification of electoral votes in Georgia, but Biden – then president of the Senate – quickly killed debate with his gavel because she lacked the signature of a senator.
“It is over,” Biden said as Republicans applauded.
In 2004, then-Sen. Barbara Boxer signed on to a House objection on the election results in Ohio, the decisive state in President Georgia W. Bush’s victory over Democrat John Kerry. The House and Senate each defeated the objection.
“I don’t believe that Congress will defy the will of the people,” Green said. “You can have empty rhetoric in front of a microphone at a press conference. But so far, we’ve seen in court that doesn’t fly. And I also believe that’s not going to fly in Congress for the same reason.”
Multiple Senate Republicans this week suggested they’ll be ready to recognize Biden as the president-elect after the Electoral College meets Monday.
Outgoing Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., set to vacate from his seat next month, said it appears Biden will “very likely to be the president-elect” following the Electoral College vote.
“And if he is, I would hope the president would put the country first, congratulate Joe Biden, take pride in his considerable accomplishments, and help him off to a good start,” he said.
Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said he would “probably not” be willing to challenge results come Jan. 6. “I don’t know that I don’t think any one senator would probably feel comfortable doing that.”
Braun said he supported efforts to vet concerns about election, but nothing “coalesced” to overturn the election. He said he’s waiting until Monday’s Electoral College vote to call Biden president-elect.
“I think at that point, the process has played itself out.”
Staff reporters Kevin Johnson and Nicholas Wu contributed to this report. Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Electoral College meeting Monday will hand Trump loss he won’t accept