The US election on 4 November 2020 saw Joe Biden become the President- elect, to become US President on Inauguration Day (20 January 2021). As I write, on 12 November 2020, the odds of Trump ceasing to be US President in 2021 are 1/7. Put another way, bookies are estimating there is a 12.5% chance that Trump will either cease to be president before the end of this year (presumably though death or resignation), or could still be the President in 2022. How is this possible? I’ll outline the necessary events.
Disputes and recounts
Trump has made it clear that he’s disputing the election result, and some states are recounting their votes. All disputes and legal challenges must be settled at state level by 8 December 2020. Providing states meet this deadline, Congress is obliged to accept the electors (the individuals who comprise each state’s electoral college).
If states don’t meet this deadline for any reason, there are a number of situations which might unfold – but, ultimately, Congress would decide which electors would be accepted to cast votes on the 14 December, when the electors formally vote by paper ballot.
Most states have laws requiring the electors to vote the same way as the voters in the state have. However, electors can vote against their state’s popular vote or decline to vote, becoming a so-called “faithless elector”.
Although unprecedented, it is conceivable that “faithless electors” could alter the outcome of the election, causing a constitutional crisis at the same time. Once all the electors’ votes have been counted, these are entered on to a certificate of the vote, for delivery to various officials by 23 December.
Senate and Congress counts
On 6 January 2021, the Senate and House will formally count the votes sent by electors across the country. Assuming one candidate received more than 270 of the electors’ votes, then the president of the Senate, Mike Pence, will formally announce the winner of the election.
However, members of Congress can object to electoral returns from each state and, providing one member of the House and one from the Senate object to a state’s return, both chambers will meet separately and debate the objection. Both chambers must agree for any contested votes not to be counted. If neither candidate reaches the 270 votes, the House decides the election, thorough a majority vote.
Finally, on 20 January, at noon the President-elect will be sworn into office at the Inauguration Day ceremony.
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