How does Congress count electoral votes and can results be contested?

President-elect Joe Biden’s victory is expected to be reaffirmed early next month, when the new Congress meets in a joint session to count the votes of each state’s Electoral College.

Required by the Constitution, the event usually takes place with little fanfare. But the joint session scheduled for January 6 is expected to bring even greater drama, as some of President Trump’s Republican allies in Congress have indicated. they plan to challenge electoral votes in certain states, although these efforts are almost certainly unsuccessful.

Mr. Trump refused to grant the election and lost a series of legal battles seeking to reverse his result, but the march towards Biden’s inauguration continues, with the counting of electoral votes in Congress the final step to formally recognize his victory.

Here is a summary of how Congress will count and certify electoral votes next month:

When does Congress meet to count electoral votes?

On January 3, the first meeting of the 117th Congress, the United States archivist will transmit the certification of the election results of each state governor to the two houses of Congress. The date for counting electoral votes is fixed by law on 6 January.

Electoral votes will be counted in a joint session of the Chamber and the Senate, meeting in the Chamber. The president of the Senate – the vice president – is the president of the session. If Vice President Mike Pence decides not to attend the joint session, Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, president of the Senate pro tempore, will chair.

As president, Pence will have the uncomfortable task of reaffirming Biden’s victory and acknowledging his own defeat, while Trump continues to deny that he lost the election.

There is precedent for the Senate pro tempore president to preside because the vice president was absent. According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, Vice President Hubert Humphrey refused to preside over the counting of electoral votes in January 1969, after losing to Richard Nixon in that election.

How are votes counted?

The US Code requires the chairman to open and present electoral ballot papers in alphabetical order. Then the certificate for each state is read by “boxes”. The House and Senate leadership will nominate two “tellers” each before the joint session to read the certificates, and they are typically members of the Senate Rules and House Administration Committees, which have jurisdiction over issues related to elections.

In 2017, when the joint session of Congress came together to count the electoral votes and affirm Trump’s victory, Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri and Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota were Senate scrutineers, while the congressman Republican Gregg Harper of Mississippi and Democratic Congressman Bob Brady of Pennsylvania were the House’s scrutineers.

As soon as the votes are read, the tellers will register and count them. The chairman of the presiding board will announce whether any candidate has received the majority of the votes for president and vice president.

This process can be accelerated if lawmakers agree to do so. In 2017, the process of reading and counting electoral votes took 41 minutes, according to the CRS report.

How can members of Congress contest the election results?

Federal law details procedures for how lawmakers can object to a state’s electoral votes.

After reading the certificate for each state or district of Columbia, the presiding officer will request objections, if any. An objection must be made in writing and signed by at least one member of the Senate and one member of the House.

He must also “state clearly and concisely, and without argument, the basis for this”.

If an objection is raised appropriately, the joint session is suspended and each chamber of Congress meets separately to consider it. The debate is limited to a maximum of two hours, and each member can speak only once and for a maximum of five minutes.

The Senate and the House vote if they agree with the objection, with a simple majority as a limit to affirm it.

But if the simple majority does not support the objection, it fails and the state’s electoral votes are counted.

An objection to a state’s votes was last considered in 2005, when Senator Barbara Boxer of California and Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio, both Democrats, opposed electoral votes in Ohio, citing voting irregularities. Both chambers, however, overwhelmingly rejected his objection, and Ohio’s electoral votes for President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were counted.

Is Trump likely to succeed in his latest effort to reverse the election result?

It seems highly unlikely that any state’s electoral votes will be rejected by lawmakers during the joint January 6 session. On the one hand, Democrats will retain their majority in the House at the next Congress, so any objection is likely to be rejected by the lower house. In addition, while House Republicans have suggested that they will object to electoral votes in some states, their efforts are likely to be hampered by the requirement that an objection be endorsed by a senator.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell asked Republican senators last week not to object to the election results when the joint session was called. Other Republican senators poured cold water on the president’s hopes that Congress will rescue him.

Senator John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, said the attempt to withdraw state electoral votes “just isn’t going anywhere”.

“In the Senate, everything would fall like a gunshot,” the whip of the majority of the Senate told reporters.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who is a close ally of Trump, said that contesting the votes “would probably do more harm than good.”

Thune’s comments, in particular, made him a target for the president, who said the South Dakota senator first elected in 2004 will face an opponent in the Republican primaries in 2022.

“Republicans in the Senate forget so quickly. At the moment, they would lose 8 seats without me supporting them in the last election,” tweeted Trump. “RINO John Thune, ‘Mitch’s boy’, should just let that happen. South Dakota doesn’t like weaknesses. He will take precedence in 2022, his political career is over !!!”