What to expect as Congress certifies Electoral College vote count today
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The 2020 presidential election is finally coming to a close Wednesday, when Congress meets to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.
Long viewed as a routine legislative affair, this year’s certification process will be unlike any other. The reason: dozens of House Republicans will be joined by at least 12 GOP senators to object to certifying the results.
It has been commonplace for House lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to challenge the election results during the certification process for decades, something they are permitted to do under the Electoral Count Act of 1887.
What isn’t common, however, is any senator joining the effort, let alone 12.
That will change Wednesday, when Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) lead a group of Republican colleagues in objecting to the certification of at least three states: Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
States like Michigan and Wisconsin could also be added.
The Electoral College went 306-232 for Biden, but President Trump has alleged that widespread fraud tipped the results in must-win swing states. Courts have rejected those claims, and Trump has refused to concede.
The effort is not expected to be successful in overturning Biden’s victory and has largely been criticized as a litmus test for lawmakers’ support for Trump, though Cruz has argued that his only motivation was to launch a commission on voter fraud.
What time does the vote certification process begin?
House and Senate lawmakers will gather at 1 p.m. for a joint session, when both Congressional bodies meet together to conduct formal business.
The session will be presided over by Vice President Mike Pence whose duties include being president of the Senate.
Can the vice president overturn the Electoral College vote count?
The short answer is no.
Pence will be in attendance to oversee the proceedings, where lawmakers will offer their objections to certifying the Electoral College results, but his role will be largely ceremonial.
His main responsibility will be opening the sealed certificates from each state and passing them on to tellers to read aloud to lawmakers in the House chamber.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.) alongside a group of Republican officials filed suit against the outgoing vice president just before the new year in an effort to grant him the power to overturn the election results by choosing pro-Trump electors.
The GOP lawmakers argued in the suit that the Electoral Count Act was unconstitutional, and that Pence had the authority to decide which electoral votes to count.
A federal appeals court judge ruled over the weekend, however, that Pence did not have such authority.
Which senators plan to object?
As of Tuesday afternoon, 12 senators are planning to object to counting certain electors.
Led by Cruz and Hawley, they include Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.).
Georgia candidate David Perdue said he won’t be able to vote Wednesday on the Electoral College results because his election won’t be certified, but said he also supports the objections.
What happens when members of Congress challenge the election outcome?
After the vice president hands the ballot envelopes over to the teller, and the teller reads out the name and electors, Pence will then ask if any lawmakers have any objections.
There is no rule for what makes an objection valid except that it must be submitted in writing and signed by at least one lawmaker from each chamber.
For the results of a state to be overturned by Congress, both bodies would need to come up with simple majorities to reject the state’s results.
This would need to happen in multiple states to push President Trump over the edge and allow him to reclaim the presidency, something that is highly unlikely with a Democratic-led House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wholly opposed to objecting the results.
Once the challenges are heard and eventually voted down, the vice president will declare which candidates have reached the threshold for electoral victory.
That announcement is the last step in the presidential election process before lawmakers take to the Capitol on Jan. 20 for the inauguration.
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