Voters cast their ballots for president more than a month ago, but the votes that officially matter will be cast Monday. That's when the Electoral College meets.
The Constitution gives the electors the power to choose the president, and when all the votes are counted Monday, President-elect Joe Biden is expected to have 306 electoral votes, more than the 270 needed to elect a president, to 232 votes for President Donald Trump.
The spotlight on the process is even greater this year because Trump has refused to concede.
In election years, the Electoral College meets to choose the President on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, times vary by state.
Electors are chosen by their state’s political parties.
A candidate needs at least 270 (more than half) of the 538 available electoral votes to become President.
Electors cast their votes by paper ballot: one ballot for president and one for vice president.
Electors are not required to vote for a specific candidate under the Constitution. However, in 32 states and the District of Columbia, the elector must sign a pledge to vote for whoever won the popular vote in their state. Penalties for not doing so vary by state.
In 14 states, faithless electors, or electors who don’t vote as pledged, can be replaced or have their vote canceled.
In five states, faithless electors can also face charges, jail time, and/or be fined. For example, in the 2016 election, four electors who switched their votes in Washington were fined $1,000 each.
The votes get counted and the electors sign six certificates with the results. Each certificate gets paired with a certificate from the governor detailing the state’s vote totals.
Those six packets then get mailed to various people specified by law. The most important copy, though, gets sent to the president of the Senate, the current vice president. This is the copy that will be officially counted later.
Once the electoral votes are cast, they are sent to Congress, where both houses will convene on Jan. 6 for a session presided over by the Vice President. The envelopes from each state and the District of Columbia will be opened and the votes tallied.
If at least one member of each house objects in writing to some electoral votes, the House and Senate meet separately to debate the issue. Both houses must vote to sustain the objection for it to matter, and the Democratic-led House is unlikely to go along with any objections to votes for Biden. Otherwise, the votes get counted as intended by the states.
And then there’s one more step: inauguration.