The Electoral College is gathering today across the United States to certify the election of the next US President and Vice President. The meetings are taking place days after all 50 US states, and the District of Columbia, certified their results of the November 3 election, with West Virginia being the last state to do so last week.
At present, president-elect Joe Biden has 306 electoral votes, enough to clinch the White House, while President Donald Trump has 232, and is expected to lose. Observers say that these numbers are unlikely to change, unless some of the presidential electors meeting today turn “faithless” and vote for a candidate that is not the popular choice of their state or abstain from voting.
Who are the members of the Electoral College?
To win the US presidential election, a candidate does not need to win the national popular vote, but requires an outright majority in the Electoral College — a group of electors from across the country who choose the country’s next president and vice-president.
The Electoral College has a total of 538 voters, who are apportioned according to the number of seats each state has in the US Congress. Crossing the halfway mark — 270 — means winning the presidency.
Once the results are announced after Election Day, individual states certify their popular vote according to their own statutory and procedural requirements. After it is clear who has won the state’s popular vote, the states choose their voters for the Electoral College.
The electors come from a slate of people selected by political parties months before the election. Naturally, parties pick people who are their loyal supporters, so as to ensure that they vote for the party’s presidential candidate and no one else.
As per the US Constitution, only those who are members of Congress or hold federal office are barred from becoming electors. So, the electors are generally retired politicians, state or local elected officials, party activists or even those personally related to the candidates, as per the BBC.
For example, former President Bill Clinton was among the electors in 2016, who voted for his wife, then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump Jr., President Trump’s eldest son and namesake, was also an elector the same year.
Who are “faithless electors”?
These are members of the Electoral College who go rogue, and decide to vote for a candidate that is not their state’s popular choice, or abstain from voting despite pledging not to do so. Such “faithless” electors have been seen during several elections in US history, including the first presidential election of 1788-89, in which three did not vote.
Generally, electors are known to stand behind their party’s candidate, and no election has ever been overturned due to them going rogue. However, there have been notable incidents that have attracted media coverage.
During the last election in 2016, 10 of the total 538 electoral college members turned faithless, a record high. After the election results were announced that year, 306 electors had been estimated for Trump and 232 for Clinton. In the end, however, Trump secured 304 votes and Clinton 227, as 7 of the ten succeeded in going rogue, with three votes getting invalidated.
A number of faithless electors as large as in 2016 could have had a major impact during the 2000 election, when Republican candidate George W Bush had 271 electors voters, only two above his Democratic rival Al Gore’s tally of 269.
At today’s Electoral College meeting, however, Biden is expected to sail through easily thanks to his much larger lead. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram
Are there legal repercussions for faithless electors?
Yes, thanks to a US Supreme Court ruling from July this year, that allows states to punish electors who break away from the party line. “The Constitution’s text and the Nation’s history both support allowing a State to enforce an elector’s pledge to support his party’s nominee — and the state voters’ choice — for President,” the judgment read.
Currently, 33 states and the District of Columbia have laws against faithless voting, and three electors from Washington state were charged a $1000 fine for not voting for their state’s then choice Hillary Clinton. As many as 17 states, however, do not have such laws.
This year, allies of President Trump, who refuse to acknowledge Biden’s win, have argued that enough faithless electors could keep the Republican in power. Several reports, however, including in the New York Times and CNN, rubbish this notion, and predict a comfortable victory for Biden.
What happens after the Electoral College meeting?
On January 6, 2021, the US Congress will meet and count and certify the votes cast by the Electoral College. If any dispute arises at this point, it will be resolved by the US Congress. This step also marks the end of the voting process in the US elections.
On January 20, two weeks after this final step, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.