Electors began voting across the United States on Monday at sessions that will formally choose Joe Biden as the next U.S. president, effectively ending President Donald Trump’s failing attempt to overturn his loss in the Nov. 3 election.
The state-by-state Electoral College votes, traditionally an afterthought, have taken on outsized significance because of Trump’s challenge to the process.
Election results show Biden, the Democratic former vice president, won 306 electoral votes – exceeding the 270 needed to win – after four years under the Republican Trump. Biden and running mate Kamala Harris are due to take office on Jan. 20.
Under a complicated system dating back to the 1780s, a candidate becomes U.S. president not by winning a majority of the popular vote but through the Electoral College system, which allots electoral votes to the 50 states and the District of Columbia largely based on the size of their population.
In capitols such as Lansing, Michigan; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and Atlanta, Georgia, electors – typically party loyalists – will gather on Monday to formally cast those votes.
Georgia’s 16 electors and Nevada’s six electors voted for Biden for president, confirming his victory in the battleground states that Trump had unsuccessfully tried to challenge in court.
Electors represent the candidate who won their state, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, which give some of their Electoral College votes to the winning presidential candidate in the state’s congressional districts.
While there are sometimes a handful of “rogue” electors who vote for someone other than the winner of their state’s popular vote, the vast majority rubber-stamp the results, and officials do not expect anything different on Monday.
Trump has called on Republican state legislators to appoint their own electors. State lawmakers have largely dismissed the idea.
Trump said late last month he will leave the White House if the Electoral College votes for Biden, but has since pressed on with his campaign, filing without success numerous lawsuits challenging state vote counts.
CONGRESS LONG SHOT
Once the Electoral College vote is complete, Trump’s sole remaining gambit would be to persuade Congress not to certify the count on Jan. 6.
Any attempt to block a state’s results, and thus change the overall U.S. tally, must pass in both chambers of Congress that day. Republicans would very likely fail to stop Biden taking office as planned on Jan. 20 because Democrats control the House of Representatives and several Republican senators have acknowledged Biden’s victory.
In 2016, Trump won the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes. The formal vote earned extra attention when some Democratic activists called for electors to “go rogue” against Trump. In the end, seven electors broke ranks, an unusually high number but still far too few to sway the outcome.
At 78, Biden will be the oldest person to become U.S. president.
He was due to make a speech at 8 p.m. ET on Monday about the Electoral College “and the strength and resilience of our democracy,” his transition team said in a statement.
While the electoral votes normally involve some pomp and circumstance, most events this year will be significantly scaled back due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In Michigan, for instance, the 16 electors are allowed to bring only a single guest; Arizona has shifted its ceremony from the Capitol building to an unassuming government facility and pared down the list of invitees. At least one state, Nevada held its electoral vote entirely virtually.