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What Happens When Elections Are Challenged?

It isn’t always clear who wins an election – so what do we do to clear it up?

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Even though Election Day 2020 has come and gone, there are still many questions about who actually won and how we declare a winner to begin with. Usually, elections are contested when someone accuses someone else of fraud or says that mistakes were made. Candidates and campaigns then sue the states – and in some cases, various levels of the state government – hoping to get the courts to change the election results.

In some states, if the winner’s number of votes is too close to the next candidate’s, it will require a recount without anyone having to ask for it. Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Arizona all have automatic recounts if the votes are too close. In most other states, however, someone has to sue and get court approval for a recount. Then, the state has to allow it – but the candidate or party has to pay for it.

The final winner of a presidential election is not officially declared until January of the following year. States must certify their results six days before the Electoral College’s first meeting on December 14. After the vote certification deadline on December 8, any electors can theoretically have their votes challenged by Congress, which is why states work hard to meet that deadline. By December 23, all state electors should have submitted their votes to Congress in time for the new Congressional session to count the votes for president on January 6 and name the new president.

Many steps still need to occur before a winner is certified in the 2020 election. Although the media has a habit of calling the presumptive winner president-elect, it is improper to use that title until Congress announces the winner of the election. Until this deadline, debates about the election are open and up to our court system to handle and decide.

Jose Backer, General Assignment Reporter, is a graduate of St. Michael's College and is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Political Science. Born and raised in Southern California, he currently resides in the Pasadena area.

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