Now that the electoral college has chosen former Vice President Joe Biden as winner of the presidential election, the next step is for Congress to certify the results. Most of the time, this is just a formality. However, there’s a good chance the process will be challenged this time, so the proceedings will probably go differently this time.
The congressional count is a meeting that is mandated in the U.S. Constitution and is usually a ceremonial event. It includes a series of steps to certify the outcome of the race and is the final step in the entire election procedure, leaving only the Jan. 20 inauguration before the newly elected president takes office.
When Congress Meets
Federal law requires Congress to meet on Jan. 6 to unseal certificates from each state containing records of their electoral votes. The certificates are placed into mahogany boxes and brought into the chamber for the participants to review. As president of the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence oversee the session and is responsible for declaring the winner of the race.
If the electoral votes are tied, the House of Representatives decides who will become the next president. Each congressional delegation from each state has one vote. However, this has not happened since the 1800s, and in this election, Biden won 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232.
When the two chambers of Congress, which include the House of Representatives and the Senate, meet to count the votes, the presiding officer presents the certificates from each state by alphabetical order. The “tellers” from each chamber read each of the votes out loud. Then, they record and count the votes and the presiding officer announces the winner.
What Happens When There Is an Objection?
After a teller reads a certificate from a particular state, any member of Congress can stand up and object to that state’s vote. This means, a senator or representative can disagree with the results and explain why. But the presiding officer is not allowed to listen to the objection unless it is in writing and signed by at least one member of the House and Senate.
If this happens, then the session is paused and the House and Senate go into separate rooms to discuss the objection. Both chambers must agree with the reasons for the objections for it to be upheld. This means that a majority in the House and Senate must vote in favor of the objection.
Some Republican members of both the House and the Senate have already indicated that they would mount objections to some of the certificates on Jan. 6. But it is still unlikely that any of these challenges will be successful if history is any indicator. The session will be the last chance for Republicans to officially object to the outcome of the election.