What You Need to Know About the Electoral Process and What Happens Between Now and Inauguration Day
- Despite the numerous attempts by President Trump and his allies to undermine the outcome of the election, there is almost no chance he will still be in office after Jan. 20, 2021.
- While there are still a number of things that need to happen before Inauguration Day, there are two general ways that Trump could try to steal the election, though both are highly unlikely.
- The first is convincing the Republican-held legislatures in states that voted for Biden to claim the votes were incorrect, and send electors to the Electoral College who will vote for Trump.
- The second scenario would be for electors who pledged to Biden to vote for Trump instead. While this is something that happens, it has never changed the outcome of an election.
The Long Path Ahead
Former Vice President Joe Biden has been declared the winner of the election, but for many, it still feels like there is a lot up in the air.
President Donald Trump has refused to concede, and many in his administration are acting as though he’s been re-elected and will still be in office after the inauguration on Jan. 20. That’s also on top of the numerous lawsuits Trump has filed and the fact that he and his allies keep claiming, without evidence, there has been massive election fraud.
While there is still a lot that needs to happen between now and Inauguration Day, and the president’s undemocratic tactics are enough to make anyone uncertain, there is one thing that needs to be made very clear: it is extremely unlikely that he will be able to overturn the will of the people.
Let’s take a look at what will take place between now and the inauguration, and how the actions the president has taken fit into that timeline.
Certifying Election Results
The very first thing that needs to happen is that states must certify their election results. The exact method for doing this varies from state to state, but the general way it works is that whichever local election officials are responsible for election administration first must count all the ballots, double-check totals, and make sure every valid vote has been included in those numbers.
Once that’s all one, those officials report their final totals to the state, and then the head election official — usually the secretary of state — compiles all the results from the local officials and gives them to the governor.
Notably, each state has its own deadline for this process, and some have already completed it, which makes sense because as you can imagine, this takes a lot longer in more populous places.
Then, once a state’s governor has all the totals from every county and municipality, they have to send them to Congress for what is known as a “certificate of ascertainment,” which lists the certified number of votes cast for each candidate as well as the names of the state’s electors.
As for the deadline for those certificates of ascertainment, they just need to be given to Congress before the Electoral College convenes on Dec. 14.
Safe Harbor Deadline
There is, however, a big incentive for states to give Congress those finalized counts before what is known as the safe harbor deadline on Dec. 8. This deadline is incredibly significant because it is the date by which all legal challenges and recounts must be settled and electors must be solidified by states.
For some context here, electors are the people who cast votes in the Electoral College. The number of electors in each state is equal to the number of electoral votes that state has. For example, Arizona has 11 electoral votes, and thus, 11 electors.
While the way electors are selected is different in each state. Generally, each party chooses a slate of electors at their state conventions or by a vote of a party’s central committee.
When the voters in a given state cast their ballots for president, the party of whichever candidate wins the popular vote gets to designate electors who will go to Electoral College in December and vote for the person who won their state.
That’s why you often hear the phrase “winner-take-all” when it comes to the Electoral College. In all states, except Maine and Nebraska, whoever wins the most votes in a state gets all its electors.
However, if there are unresolved disputes over election results because of lawsuits, recounts, or other issues with certifying final counts and electors, then this whole process becomes a lot stickier. This is where hypothetical situations for how Trump could steal the election come into play.
There are two overarching ways that this could happen, though again, both are very unlikely.
Scenario 1: State Legislatures and Electors
The first scenario involves getting Republican-controlled legislatures in states that gave the popular vote to Biden to overrule that mandate.
They can do this by claiming that the results are invalid and then invoking their constitutional right to step in and choose a slate of electors they believe more accurately reflects the election results of their state.
This would result in the legislature sending pro-Trump electors to the Electoral College to cast the state’s official vote for the candidate the voters of that state explicitly did not choose. Notably, the idea has floated by several conservative commentators, pro-Trump legislators, and, according to reports, even Trump himself privately among aides.
To be clear, what these people are proposing would be a full-blown attempt to steal the election and defying the will of voters by ignoring election results. As a result, any state legislature that would even consider doing that would face massive legal and practical hurdles.
Without getting too deep nitty-gritty of all of this, because the legal situation here is incredibly complex state to state, all you need to know is that Trump would have to get multiple Republican-held legislatures on board to do this in multiple key states in order to change the outcome of the election.
Currently, the president has only won 232 electoral votes to Biden’s 306, meaning he would have to get the legislatures in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Georgia to all do this. Even then he would still be short one electoral vote.
So that is almost impossible in itself, and beyond that, even if Trump did get all those Republican legislatures on board, all of those states except Georgia have Democratic governors or secretaries of state that would not go along with that plot to steal their elections.
Even Georgia’s Republican secretary of state has pushed back against attempts from the right to undermine the election results and said outright there was no fraud.
Now notably, there is also a possibility — though also a far fetched one — that a state sends conflicting elector slates. This scenario would happen if the governor of a state that voted for Biden certified a Democratic elector slate, but then the state’s legislature appointed a competing pro-Trump elector slate that withstood legal challenges.
In that case, there would effectively be two slates, and Congress would have to decide which one to count. If the House and the Senate disagree, the governor’s slate would be the one counted.
Scenario 2: Faithless Electors
The second possible way Trump could steal the election, which is even more of a longshot, centers around the concept of “faithless electors.”
Under the current political system, when a state’s party selects its electors, those electors pledge to vote faithfully to their party. Right now, more than 30 states and Washington, D.C. have laws that require electors to vote for their party’s winning candidate, and roughly 20 states also have laws that cancel the vote of faithless electors or penalize them for going against their pledge.
But in the states that do not have these regulations, an elector could technically cast one of their state’s full electoral votes for the candidate that did not win it. While this is something that does happen — there were seven faithless electors in 2016 — they have never changed the outcome of an election.
In the case with the state legislature’s electors scenario, experts say that given the wide margin of electoral votes Biden has over Trump, it is essentially impossible Trump could get enough faithless electors to sway the election.
Once the electors have cast their votes on Dec. 14, the newly-elected Congress will formally count and certify the votes on Jan. 6. This process is largely symbolic but members still are allowed to object to the vote counts from any state.
If one House member and one Senate member each give written objections, those votes will be debated and then voted on by each chamber, though both have to reject a state’s votes in order for them to be invalidated.
Again, highly unlikely, and in order for the date of the inauguration to be moved, it would require a lot of Constitutional heavy-lifting. So with all that said, it seems almost certain Joe Biden will be inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2021, and Donald Trump will no longer be president.
See what others are saying: (The New Times) (TIME) (The Associated Press)
White House Endorses Bipartisan Senate Bill That Could Ban TikTok
The measure does not target TikTok specifically but instead would set up a framework to crack down on foreign products and services that present a national security threat.
The RESTRICT Act
A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill Tuesday that would allow the federal government to restrict or even outright ban TikTok and other technologies produced by foreign companies.
Under the legislation, dubbed the RESTRICT Act, the Commerce Department would have sweeping authority to identify and regulate technologies that pose a risk to national security and are produced by companies in six “foreign adversary” countries: China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea.
In other words, the proposal would not explicitly ban TikTok, but instead creates a path for future prohibitions on the Chinese-owned platform.
While the bill’s text does not specifically mention TikTok, the group of senators made it clear that the app is their number one target, directing most of their criticism to the platform in statements announcing the measure.
The legislation, however, would go way beyond TikTik: it is also designed to prepare for future situations where apps or technologies from an “adversary” country become popular in the U.S.
The bill’s Democratic sponsor, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Ma.), echoed that point in his remarks Tuesday.
“Today, the threat that everyone is talking about is TikTok, and how it could enable surveillance by the Chinese Communist Party, or facilitate the spread of malign influence campaigns in the U.S.,” he said. “Before TikTok, however, it was Huawei and ZTE, which threatened our nation’s telecommunications networks. And before that, it was Russia’s Kaspersky Lab, which threatened the security of government and corporate devices.”
“We need a comprehensive, risk-based approach that proactively tackles sources of potentially dangerous technology before they gain a foothold in America, so we aren’t playing Whac-A-Mole and scrambling to catch up once they’re already ubiquitous.”
Proponents of the bill also hope that, given the broad scope of the legislation, it will gain more traction than past proposals that zeroed in on TikTok. Support for the measure was further bolstered when the White House announced it would back the move shortly after it was rolled out.
“This bill presents a systematic framework for addressing technology-based threats to the security and safety of Americans,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement. “We look forward to continue working with both Democrats and Republicans on this bill, and urge Congress to act quickly to send it to the President’s desk.”
A Bumpy Road Ahead
Despite the bipartisan push, there are still some hurdles for the RESTRICT Act to overcome.
Although the legislation does not directly ban TikTok, because that is clearly its intent, the same issues with an outright prohibition still stand. One of the most serious concerns is that banning TikTok would violate the First Amendment.
There is past precedent on this front: in 2020, a federal magistrate judge blocked the Trump administration from requiring Apple and Google to take the Chinese-owned app WeChat off their app stores.
In that decision, the judge argued that the government only had “modest” evidence about the app’s risks and that removing it from app stores would “burden substantially more speech than is necessary to serve the government’s significant interest in national security.”
TikTok has emulated that argument. In a statement responding to the RESTRICT Act Tuesday, a spokesperson for the company said the legislation could “have the effect of censoring millions of Americans.”
Meanwhile, even if the act does pass, there is also the question of whether the Biden administration would decide on a full-scale ban.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo would be the one responsible for overseeing the process under the bill, and while she said she said in a statement that she “welcomed” the proposal and promised to work with Congress to pass it, she has also previously expressed hesitation for a full prohibition.
On the other end of the equation, there are concerns that this measure will not ultimately get enough bipartisan support from Republicans who do want an outright ban and will refuse to accept anything that falls short of that.
While speaking with Fox News on Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) said the new plan did not go far enough and argued that Congress “should pass a bill that bans TikTok.”
Even if the legislation does get enough support in the Senate, its path is unclear in the GOP-held House, where it also does not yet have a companion bill. Republicans in the House recently introduced a measure that would give the president the power to unilaterally ban TikTok in the U.S.
That proposal, however, is not bipartisan like the RESTRICT Act, which will be a key test to see if legislators can find a middle ground on the matter.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Reuters) (NBC News)
What You Need to Know About Wisconsin’s Supreme Court Race — The Most Important Election in 2023
Gerrymandering, abortion, the 2024 presidential election, and much more are on the line.
An election to fill an empty seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court that has been described as the most consequential race of 2023 has now been narrowed to two candidates after the primary Tuesday.
Liberal Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz easily took first place, winning 46.4% of the vote with nearly all precincts reporting. In second place with 24.2% was conservative Daniel Kelly, a former Wisconsin State Supreme Court justice who was appointed by the state’s then-Republican governor in 2016 but lost his re-election in 2020.
Notably, the wide discrepancy in votes can be explained by the fact that Kelly split Republican ballots with another conservative candidate who came in a close third with 21.9%. As such, the general election is expected to be tight.
Also of note, this race is technically supposed to be non-partisan, but Protasiewicz has closely aligned herself with Democrats and Kelly has done the same with Republicans. Both parties, as well as dark money groups, have poured millions of dollars into the high-stakes election that will determine whether liberals or conservatives will have a 4-3 majority on the state Supreme Court at an incredibly consequential time.
There are a number of paramount issues at play here that have widespread implications not just for Wisconsin but America at-large.
Gerrymandering and Elections
Wisconsin is one of the most important swing states in the country: it helped decide the outcomes of both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, and it is the center of debates on gerrymandering and free and fair elections that have played a role in those races.
The state Supreme Court, which has had a conservative majority for the last 14 years, has been instrumental in shaping those policies, having weighed in on many of the most crucial topics and almost always siding with Republicans.
For example, in what VICE described as “arguably the most important decision the court made in recent years,” the court ruled 4-3 last year to uphold one of America’s most gerrymandered maps that gave Republicans a massive advantage.
“The maps are so gerrymandered that Republicans hold six of Wisconsin’s eight House seats and nearly two-thirds of legislative seats in the state—even though Democrats won most statewide races last year,” the outlet reported.
That ruling created something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: the conservative majority court has decided so many critical topics because the state government is deadlocked with a Republican majority in the legislature and a Democratic governor.
So, by approving a map that massively favored Republicans, the conservative court kept that system in place, ensuring that they would continue to have the final say on so many of these essential areas.
However, if Protasiewicz wins the general election, the court is all but certain to revisit the gerrymandered map. Protasiewicz, for her part, explicitly stated in a recent interview that a liberal majority could establish new election maps. Kelly, meanwhile, has said he has no interest in revisiting the maps.
A decision unfavorable to the GOP-drawn maps would have significant implications for the internal politics of Wisconsin and control of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Republicans currently hold a very slim five-seat majority.
To that point, the Wisconsin Supreme Court also plays a big role in how the state’s elections are administered and how its ten Electoral College votes will be doled out in the 2024 presidential election.
Last year, the conservative court banned absentee ballot drop boxes, and in 2014, it upheld a GOP voter ID law that studies have shown suppressed Black voters. While the court did vote against considering former President Donald Trump’s lawsuit to try and overturn the 2020 election in Wisconsin, it only did so by a thin margin of 4-3.
The court will very likely be tasked with wading into elections-related cases in the coming years. Already, it is anticipated that the justice will hear a lawsuit by a conservative group aiming to further limit voting access by banning mobile and alternate voting facilities.
Abortion and Other Important Statewide Subjects
In addition to the ramifications for America broadly, there are also plenty of paramount issues concerning the state Supreme Court that will materially impact the people of Wisconsin.
Much of the race has been centered heavily on the topic of abortion and reproductive rights because the composition of the court will almost positively determine whether or not abortion will be legal for the state’s six million residents.
Following the Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade, an 1849 Wisconsin law banning abortion went back into effect. Currently, a lawsuit against the ban is winding its way through the court system, and it is all but assured that battle will eventually go before Wisconsin’s Supreme Court.
Experts and analysts say that if Kelly wins, it is essentially guaranteed that abortion will remain illegal in almost all cases. Protasiewicz, by contrast, has campaigned extensively on abortion rights and vocally supported the right to choose.
Beyond that, there are also several other major issues the court will likely rule on in the coming years. For example, Protasiewicz has also said she believes a liberal majority could reverse a 12-year-old law that basically eliminated collective bargaining for public workers. All of that is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Everything is at stake, and I mean everything: Women’s reproductive rights, the maps, drop boxes, safe communities, clean water,” Protasiewicz told VICE. “Everything is on the line.”
See what others are saying: (VICE) (The New York Times) (The Washington Post)
Republicans Want to Cut Food Stamps — Even As Pandemic-Era Programs Wind Down
Experts say cuts to food stamps could have a devastating impact on the 41 million Americans who rely on the program.
GOP Weighs SNAP Cuts in Budget
In recent weeks, top Republican lawmakers have floated several different ideas for cutting food stamp benefits.
Earlier this month, Republicans now leading the House Budget Committee flagged food stamps — formally known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP — as one of the ten areas they would support cuts to in their new budget proposal.
In a memo, the panel argued that stricter work requirements would “save tens of billions,” while a more rigid verification process for applicants would limit waste, fraud, and abuse. The idea comes as part of a broader effort to reduce the federal deficit.
Experts, however, say the proposed changes could result in debilitating cuts for the 41 million Americans who rely on food stamps and exacerbate an ongoing hunger crisis at a time when inflation has sent food prices rising.
SNAP provides low-income households with an average of around $230 a month for groceries. For many of those families who are also the most impacted by inflationary price increases across the board, that money is absolutely essential.
Experts have also noted that any additional cuts to SNAP would be especially harmful because Republicans are still proposing new cuts despite the fact that Congress already agreed just two months ago to end a pandemic-era program that had increased benefits in some states.
Under the pandemic policies, SNAP was expanded so households could receive maximum benefits instead of benefits based on income testing while also giving bigger payouts to the lowest-income Americans.
That expansion is now set to expire in March, and according to the anti-hunger advocacy group the Food Research and Action Center, an estimated 16 million households will see their per-person benefits drop by around $82 a month.
The Farm Bill Debate
Even if Republicans do not end up cutting SNAP in the budget, the program may still be in hot water.
While raising the debt limit is at the forefront of ongoing partisan battles at the moment, there is already a fight shaping up over another essential piece of legislation: the farm bill.
The farm bill is a package that has to be updated and reauthorized every couple of years. One of the most important legislative tasks Congress is responsible for, the farm bill includes many important subsidies and programs that are imperative to America’s food systems, farms, and much more.
SNAP is among the nutrition-based programs that fall under the purview of the farm bill, and Republicans have already tossed around the idea of cutting food stamp benefits in their ongoing negotiations.
Those debates are quite forward-looking, though it is normal for such discussions to occur early during a year in which Congress is charged with passing the farm bill. Lawmakers have until Oct. 1 to either enact a new version or agree on some kind of extension.