More than one month after voters cast their ballots in the US presidential election, the electoral college meets on December 14 to cast their ballots. The US constitution gives the electors the power to choose the president and when all the votes are counted, president-elect Joe Biden is expected to have 306 electoral votes, more than the 270 needed to elect a president, to 232 votes for President Donald Trump.
Here’s everything you need to know about the electoral college and what happens next:
What is the electoral college?
The electoral college is a middle ground between electing the president by popular vote and having US Congress chooses the president. Under the US Constitution, states get a number of electors equal to their total number of seats in Congress: two senators plus however many members the state has in the House of Representatives. With the exception of Maine and Nebraska, states award all of their electoral college votes to the winner of the popular vote in their state.
Why is the concept of the electoral college criticised?
The electoral college has been the subject of criticism for more than two centuries mostly because the person who wins the popular vote can nonetheless lose the presidential election. That has happened twice in the last two decades — in 2000 with the election of George W Bush and in 2016 when Donald Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes.
Who are the electors and what do they do?
Presidential electors typically are elected officials, political hopefuls or long-time party loyalists. The electoral college doesn’t meet in one place. Instead, each state’s electors and the electors for the District of Columbia meet in a place chosen by their legislature, usually the state capitol.
Electors cast their votes by paper ballot: one ballot for president and one for vice president. The votes get counted and the electors sign six certificates with the results. Each certificate gets paired with a certificate from the governor detailing the state’s vote totals.
Those six packets then get mailed to various people specified by law. The most important copy, though, gets sent to the president of the Senate, the current vice president. This is the copy that will be officially counted later.
Are electors obligated to vote for the candidate who won in their state?
In 32 states and the District of Columbia, laws require electors to vote for the popular-vote winner. The US Supreme Court unanimously upheld this arrangement in July. Electors almost always vote for the state winner anyway, because they generally are devoted to their political party.
What will happen next?
Once the electoral votes are cast, they are sent to Congress, where both houses will convene on January 6 for a session presided over by vice president Mike Pence. The envelopes from each state and the District of Columbia will be opened and the votes tallied.
If at least one member of each house objects in writing to some electoral votes, the House and Senate meet separately to debate the issue. Both houses must vote to sustain the objection for it to matter, and the Democratic-led House is unlikely to go along with any objections to votes for Biden. Otherwise, the votes get counted as intended by the states.
And then the next step is Inauguration Day.