How to Watch Wednesday’s Electoral College Count in Congress

Congress will meet Wednesday to certify Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election, with scores of Republican lawmakers preparing to challenge the tally in a number of states during what is normally a largely ceremonial event.

The objections, which are provided for under the law, could well delay the proceedings but are not likely to affect the outcome. The challenges have the enthusiastic support of President Donald Trump even as they expose divisions in the GOP and create a dilemma for Vice President Mike Pence, who will preside over the session. Here’s what to expect as the day unfolds.

Where to Watch

The Electoral College vote count can be viewed on several major networks as well as on CSPAN, on the Bloomberg Terminal and online at the House and Senate websites as well as Bloomberg.com.

Bloomberg TV and Radio will simulcast an extended edition of Balance of Power from 12-2 p.m. Washington time Wednesday as debate gets underway.

MSNBC and CNN will begin special coverage of the Electoral College vote count at 9 a.m. and continue to broadcast the event throughout the day. CNN said its coverage would run until 7 p.m. Fox News and CBS News will begin coverage at 1 p.m. NBC News plans to cut into regular programming to cover the vote count throughout the day. ABC News Live, the network’s streaming news channel, will broadcast special coverage beginning at 1:00 p.m.

How to Watch Wednesday’s Electoral College Count in Congress

First Steps

Around 1 p.m. on Jan. 6 -- a date and time spelled out in law -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, will gavel the joint session to order. Moments later, the sergeant-at-arms will announce the arrival of senators and Pence, who will preside as the president of the Senate.

The electoral certificates themselves will arrive in mahogany boxes, which have been used for this purpose since 1877. These certificates were prepared by the legislatures in all 50 states and the District of Columbia on Dec. 14, when the electors cast their official ballots for president and vice president reflecting the results of the election in their states.

Roll Call of the States

After a brief preamble delivered by the presiding officer, the states are called alphabetically from Alabama through Wyoming. The results are read and recorded by four “tellers” -- two senators and two representatives selected by the parties.

Lawmakers can raise their objections when the results of a state are announced. Objections are supposed to be made on the grounds of whether an electoral vote was “regularly given” and that the elector was “lawfully certified,” according to the Congressional Research Service.

However, objections have been made in the past on other grounds, including allegations of voter suppression and interference by foreign operatives.

Lawmakers Plan Objections

At least a dozen Republican senators and as many as 50 House Republicans have said they will object to the electoral results from some or all of six states won by Biden: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Representative Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican, in December became the first lawmaker to say he intended to object. Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, and Republican Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona have indicated they will object to Arizona’s electors.

How Objections Are Decided

If an objection is made in writing by both a representative and a senator, then the joint session of Congress goes into recess and the Senate and the House debate the measure in their respective chambers. The law provides for as much as two hours of debate.

During previous debates, in 1969 and 2005, the debate was divided evenly by party, although it was arranged differently in each instance, with members getting five minutes each to speak in 2005 and time divided by the majority and minority leaders in 1969.

Because of restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic, lawmakers in the House will vote in several groups, lengthening the time needed to conduct the roll call. There will be no proxy voting, as allowed in the House during a portion of the previous congressional session. Both chambers must agree to the objection by a simple majority, which would mean the electoral votes from the state where the challenge was made would not be counted. Failing that, the objection is considered to have been rejected.

How Long Will This Take?

In a letter to her Democratic colleagues, Pelosi said the process could continue through “the middle of the night” before it is resolved.

Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said it could take as long as 12 hours or more, depending on how many state results are challenged.

Little Uncertainty About Outcome

Election law experts say the objections will almost certainly fail because the Democratic-controlled House would reject them and there are enough Republican senators who have acknowledged Biden’s victory. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, and his top deputies oppose the effort.

“The Founders entrusted our elections chiefly to the states -- not Congress,” Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, said in a statement Sunday. “Under the Constitution and federal law, Congress’s power is limited to counting electoral votes submitted by the states.”

John Thune of South Dakota, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, said last month that attempts to object to the electoral count would “go down like a shot dog in the Senate.”

Putting Pence on the Spot

Trump is also putting pressure on Pence to reject electors that he baselessly claims were fraudulently chosen. A lawsuit along these same lines filed by Texas Republican Representative Louie Gohmert was rejected by a federal court.

“The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors,” Trump tweeted, inaccurately, on Tuesday.

This places Pence in the uncomfortable position of having to defy Trump or support an effort that many in his party see as unconstitutional.

The law only gives the vice president the power to preserve order as the presiding officer and announce the winners, said Rebecca Green, an election law professor at William & Mary Law School.

“None of these duties include the power to decide controversies that might arise over counting electoral votes or to otherwise decide the outcome of the election,” Green said on a call Tuesday held by the National Task Force on Election Crises. “That’s just not how the law works.”

On Tuesday night, Trump, in a statement from his campaign, denied a New York Times report that Pence had told him he did not believe he had the authority to stop the certification.

“Our vice president has several options under the U.S. Constitution,” Trump said, an assertion rejected by constitutional scholars. The Constitution says only that the president of the Senate -- Pence, in this case -- shall “open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.”

Further Reading

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