Electoral College Vote Counting

March 31, 2021

The final step in the 2020 U.S. presidential election prior to Inauguration Day happens in Congress.

What Happens
Why It Matters


  • Before Election Day: Each state’s political parties nominate *electors* (Electoral College members) who *usually* pledge to vote for their party’s candidate (the U.S. Constitution doesn’t require it, but most states do).
  • After Election Day: The results in each state determine which electors (Republicans or Democrats) will cast their ballots about 6 weeks after Election Day.

January 6 at 1 p.m. EST

  • Federal law mandates the House & Senate meet in joint session to count the certified Electoral College votes.
  • The vice president (Senate president) presides in a mostly ceremonial role.
  • Two House members & two senators act as “tellers” who read & count the Electoral College votes from each state.
  • Any senator or House member may object to counting an electoral vote.
  • The candidate w/ majority vote wins.

The Objection Process

  • An objection must be in writing & signed off by at least one senator & one House member.
  • No specific reason required; objections must be stated “clearly and concisely.”
  • The House & Senate meet separately, up to 2 hours, to debate the objection; the lawmakers then vote on it.
  • *If* an objection passes by a majority in both the House & Senate, the vote is not counted. If not, the objection fails.

The Counting Process

Under the 12th Amendment:

  • The presidential and vice presidential candidates must *both* receive a majority of the 538 Electoral College votes (at least 270) in order to win.
  • *If* no pres. candidate receives 270 votes, the House alone elects the pres.
  • *If* no VP candidate receives 270 votes, the Senate alone elects the VP.

Historical Context

We’ve only seen formal objections twice since 1887.

Recent history: In Jan. 2017, then-Vice Pres. Biden oversaw the joint session. It took 41 minutes to count the 2016 Electoral College votes. Democrat members of the House tried to object – but failed because they could not get a senator to sign off on an objection.

A growing number of Republican lawmakers plan to object to electoral votes in several states. The objections are expected to fail, however, since Republicans do not have enough votes in either the House or Senate. How long this joint session and electoral count will take is unknown.

This is a great explainer on the process: READ MORE

Here’s more from the Congressional Research Service card 2

Electoral College

Safe Harbor

Election 2020: What Happens Next

by Jenna Lee,