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What You Need to Know About the Electoral Process and What Happens Between Now and Inauguration Day

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  • 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)

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Republicans Say They Will Block Bill To Avert Government Shutdown and Debt Default

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Democrats argue the bill is necessary to prevent an economic catastrophe.


Democrats Introduce Legislation

Democrats in the House and Senate unveiled sweeping legislation Monday that aimed to keep the government funded through early December, lift the federal debt limit, and provide around $35 billion for Afghan refugees and natural disaster recovery.

The bill is needed to avoid a government shutdown when funding expires next week. It is also necessary to prevent the Treasury Department from reaching the limit of its borrowing authority, which would trigger the U.S. to default on its debt for the first time ever.

For weeks, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has urged Congress to raise the federal debt limit, also known as the debt ceiling, warning that the department will soon exhaust all of its measures to keep the federal government within its legal borrowing limit.

If the U.S. were to default, it would be unable to pay its debts, sending massive shockwaves through the financial system.

Democrats have painted the bill as crucial to avert an economic doomsday that would massively undermine recovery.

They argue that the combination of a government shutdown and a debt default would destabilize global markets and leave millions of Americans without essential aid.

Republicans Vow to Oppose Raising Debt Ceiling 

Despite the considerable threats, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly said Republicans will not vote to increase the debt ceiling, arguing that Democrats should do it without their help because they are pushing trillions of dollars in new spending priorities.

Democrats have slammed the Republican leader’s stance as hypocritical. They point out that while it is true they are proposing new spending, it has not been approved yet, and the debt that currently risks default has been incurred by both parties.

Democrats also noted that trillions of dollars were added to the federal debt under former President Donald Trump, which is more than what has been added by President Joe Biden. As a result, Republicans raised the debt ceiling three times during the Trump administration with the support of Democrats.

McConnell, however, remains unlikely to budge. On Monday, White House officials said McConnell has not outlined any requests or areas of negotiation in exchange for support of the legislation. 

While the bill is expected to pass the House, it appears all but doomed in the Senate, where it needs 60 votes to break the filibuster.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Politico)

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom Survives Recall

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Experts say the outcome should act as a warning for Republicans who tie themselves to former President Donald Trump and attempt to undermine election results by promoting false voter fraud claims.


Recall Effort Fails

After seven months and an estimated $276 million in taxpayer money, the Republican-led effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) failed Tuesday.

Just under 70% of the votes have been reported as of Wednesday morning, showing that “no” on the recall received 63.9% of the vote. That’s nearly twice as many votes as “yes,” which had 36.1%.

According to The Washington Post, even if the margin narrows as more votes are counted, this still marks one of the biggest rejections of any recall effort in America over the last century.

Analysts say the historic rebuke was driven by high Democratic turnout and broader fears over resurging COVID cases.

While the Delta variant continues to push new infections to record highs in many parts of the country with lax mask rules and low vaccination rates, California, once a global epicenter of the pandemic, now has one of the highest vaccination rates and lowest new caseloads in the nation.

Newsom has continually tried to convince voters that those figures are the results of his vaccine and masking policies, which have been some of the most aggressive in the U.S. 

Given that polls showed the pandemic was the top concern for California voters, it is clear that the majority favored his policies over those of his competitors. Larry Elder, the Republican talk radio host of led the field of 46 challengers, ran on a platform of getting rid of essentially all COVID restrictions.

Newsom’s Remarks

In his victory speech Tuesday night, Newsom painted the recall’s failure not only as a win for Democratic coronavirus policies but also for Democracy at large.

“We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic,” he said. “We said yes to people’s right to vote without fear of fake fraud or voter suppression.” 

“I think about just in the last few days and the former president put out saying this election was rigged,” he continued. “Democracy is not a football. You don’t throw it around. That’s more like a, I don’t know, antique vase. You can drop it and smashing a million different pieces. And that’s what we’re capable of doing if we don’t stand up to meet the moment and push back.”

“I said this many, many times on the campaign trail, we may have defeated Trump, but Trump-ism is not dead in this country. The Big Lie, January 6th insurrection, all the voting suppression efforts that are happening all across this country.” 

A Warning for Republicans

Newsom’s remarks took aim at the efforts by Elder and other Republicans — including former President Donald Trump — who over the last week have claimed falsely and without evidence that voter fraud helped secured the governor’s win before Election Day even took place.

While it is currently unknown whether that narrative may have prompted more Republican voters to stay home, Newsom’s effort to cast Edler as a Trump-like candidate and the recall as an undemocratic, Republican power grab appears to have been effective.

Now, political strategists say that the outcome of the recall should serve as a warning that Republicans who pin themselves to Trump and his Big Lie playbook may be hurt more in certain states.

“The recall does offer at least one lesson to Democrats in Washington ahead of next year’s midterm elections: The party’s pre-existing blue- and purple-state strategy of portraying Republicans as Trump-loving extremists can still prove effective with the former president out of office,” The New York Times explained.

Even outside of a strongly blue state like California, analysts say this strategy will also be effective with similar candidates in battleground states like Georgia, Arizona, Missouri, and Pennsylvania, which will be essential to deciding control of the Senate.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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Justice Department Sues Texas Over Abortion Ban

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The department claims the Texas law violates past Supreme Court precedents on abortion and infringes on Constitutional protections.


Biden Administration Takes Aim at Texas Law

The Department of Justice sued Texas on Thursday in an attempt to block the state’s newly enacted law that effectively prohibits all abortions by banning the procedure after six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant.

The abortion law, which is the most restrictive in the country and does not provide exceptions for rape or incest, allows private citizens to take legal action against anyone who helps a person terminate their pregnancy after six weeks.

In its lawsuit, the Justice Department argued that the Texas law is unconstitutional because it violates past Supreme Court precedents through a technical loophole.

While numerous other states have passed similar laws banning abortion after about six weeks, federal judges have struck down those measures on the grounds that they are inconsistent with Roe v. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court decisions that states cannot prevent someone from seeking an abortion before a fetus can viably live outside the womb, usually around 22 to 24 weeks.

The Texas law, however, skirts the high court decisions by deputizing citizens to enforce the law rather than state government officials, taking the state out of the equation entirely and protecting it from legal responsibility.

Individuals who do so do not have to prove any personal injury or connection to those they take legal action against, which can range from abortion providers to rideshare drivers who take someone to a clinic.

If their lawsuit is successful, the citizen is entitled to a $10,000 award.

DOJ Lawsuit Targets Constitutionality

During a press conference detailing the DOJ lawsuit, Attorney General Merrick Garland referred to the enforcement mechanism as “an unprecedented” effort with the “obvious and expressly acknowledged intention” to prevent Texans from their constitutionally protected right to have an abortion.

“This kind of scheme to nullify the Constitution of the United States is one that all Americans — whatever their politics or party — should fear,” Garland said, adding that the provision of the law allowing civilians “to serve as bounty hunters” may become “a model for action in other areas, by other states, and with respect to other constitutional rights and judicial precedents.”

The Justice Department argued that the Texas policy violates equal protection guarantees under the 14th Amendment as well as the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which establishes that the Constitution and federal law generally take precedence over state law.

The lawsuit also claimed that the law interferes with the constitutional obligation of federal employees to provide access to abortion, including in cases of rape or incest, to people who are under the care of federal agencies or contractors such as those in prisons.

Both Sides See Path to Supreme Court

While proponents of abortion rights applauded the Justice Department’s legal challenge, officials in Texas defended the law and accused the Biden administration of filing the lawsuit for political reasons. 

“President Biden and his administration are more interested in changing the national narrative from their disastrous Afghanistan evacuation and reckless open border policies instead of protecting the innocent unborn,” a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), said in a statement. 

“We are confident that the courts will uphold and protect that right to life.”

The DOJ’s suit will now be decided by a federal judge for the Western District of Texas, based in Austin. 

Depending on how that court rules, either opponents or supporters of the abortion ban are expected to appeal the case, sending it to the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal and likely ultimately placing the matter before the Supreme Court again in a matter of months.

The Supreme Court allowed the law to go into effect by declining to approve an emergency petition to block the measure last week, but it did not rule on the constitutionality of the policy.

As a result, the Justice Department’s legal challenge could force the high court to hear another facet of the law that it has not yet considered if it decides to see the case.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Texas Tribune)

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