On November 3, 2020, former Vice President Joe Biden squared off against the 44th President, Donald Trump, in the 2020 elections.
With some minor adjustment theoretically possible: Joe Biden won 81,268,867 votes (51.3%) to Donald Trump's 74,216,747 (46.8%). When all votes were counted, Joe Biden had secured the promise of a majority of electors: 306 to Donald Trump's 232.
On December 14, 2020, the electoral college cast their votes exactly 306 for Joe Biden and 232 for Donald Trump. There were 0 faithless electors in 2020.
What Is the Electoral College?
The electoral college is the body that elects the President and Vice President in the United States. States are awarded electoral votes in proportion to their population (out of a total pool of 538 electors). States decide how to allocate those votes. A majority of states are 'winner-takes-all,' awarding all votes to the popular vote winner.
Maine and Nebraska are the exceptions – both states assign electors by Congressional District (and each split their total slate of votes in 2020 – see the map below).
The Supreme Court: Chiafalo v. Washington
In 2016, there were a total of 7 faithless electors – electors pledged to one candidate who voted for another. Although Donald Trump's 2016 victory map suggested he'd win 306 votes to Hillary Clinton's 232, after a chaotic night, they officially ended with 304 and 227. (Colin Powell, Bernie Sanders, John Kasich, Ron Paul, and Faith Spotted Eagle all picked up votes.)
In 2020, the Supreme Court took up Chiafalo v. Washington. Both Washington State and Colorado attempted to punish 2016's faithless electors – and mandate electors to vote for their pledged candidate in the future. Justice Sonia Sotomayor recused.
The remaining eight justices agreed on July 6, 2020, that states could enforce electors' voting for pledged candidates.
The Election and Challenges
Due to the unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a larger than normal count of mail-in ballots in 2020. Late night on November 3 (with mostly in-person votes counted), President Trump looked far in the lead – in fact, several betting sites implied Trump was an 80%+ favorite to win.
Late-counted votes on November 3 and the morning of November 4 put it back in doubt, then the trickle of counted votes 'turned' the vote to Joe Biden in a number of swing states over the next three days:
- (Controversially) Arizona, for some networks – notably, Fox & the AP but not ABC
Nearly immediately after networks called Biden's election victory on November 7, President Trump called the results "far from over," promising to challenge the results. Here's how the final map looked:
The Trump campaign and allies immediately filed a number of lawsuits over voting procedures and allegations of fraud and irregularities. There are too many to list here – Wikipedia has a decent catalog of legal actions by the campaign (and the allies).
Most lawsuits were dismissed, although a few lawsuits were decided in the Trump campaign's favor. No lawsuits alleged fraud in numbers large enough to turn the election, however.
While Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis were the official legal team, other lawyers independently filed lawsuits challenging the election's validity.
Notably, prosecutor Sidney Powell and attorney Lin Wood filed suits on behalf of Trump's campaign. As I wrote this piece, neither had significant (read: large enough to swing a state) victories yet, although some cases were ongoing.
The Electoral College and 'Multiple Slates of Electors'
Perhaps because of Chiafalo v. Washington, there weren't as many calls for electoral college shenanigans as there were in 2016. (See my 2016 post for a recounting). However, some politicians and conservative celebrities angled for an electoral college remedy to overturn President Trump's loss.
Wisconsin's Joe Sanfelippo (State Rep, R - Wi) suggested a recount or an electoral college remedy. Trump's legal team allegedly (read: according to unnamed sources) discussed trying to delay state vote certifications and install friendly electors. Senator Marco Rubio (R - FL) cheekily brought up how folks of the opposite political persuasion behaved in 2016. And Republican Representative Mo Brooks suggested he may fight Congress's electoral college certification on January 6, 2021.
Ultimately, though, the electoral college voted as pledged – and in a more orderly manner than in 2016.
'Multiple Slates of Electors'
In the 1960's election between Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat John Kennedy, Hawaii was too close to call after a November 8 count and headed to recall. That year, two sets of 3 electors (Hawaii had three votes at the time) voted on December 19 – and both Hawaii's slates of electors voted, so called "dueling electors" or "multiple slates." Ultimately, JFK won in a recount – Hawaii sent an urgent letter two days before Congress certified the election, letting Congress know to accept the Democratic electors' votes for President Kennedy.
In 2020, Republican electors in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Michigan (states Biden carried) all "submitted" – quotes because it's unclear how they sent them in – electoral votes for Donald Trump opposite the state's official electoral slate.
While Congress won't certify the election until January 6, the odds are slim to none that Congress will overturn the official electors and grant Trump a second term.
By the beginning of the year, at least 140 Republican Representatives said they'd challenge at least some states' electoral vote slates. While it's theoretically possible that a team of one Senator and one Representative can co-sign a challenge (forcing the President of the Senate, currently Vice President Mike Pence, to intervene) – Republican Senators initially signaled they'd avoid the effort. That changed in the run-up to certification.
Josh Hawley Announces He'll Raise Concerns at the Certification Vote
On December 30, 2020 Josh Hawley (Missouri) was the first senator to publicly state he'd object to electoral vote certification. He announced he wouldn't vote to certify the Electoral College without raising voter integrity concerns. Here's his statement in full:
January 2, 2021: 11 Republican Senator Letter to Reject Electoral Votes
On January 2, 2021, 11 GOP Senators and Senators Elect signed a letter saying they'd vote to reject some states' Electoral College votes. In the letter, they demand a 10-day emergency audit.
Here are the Senators who signed on:
- Ted Cruz (Texas)
- Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee)
- John Kennedy (Louisiana)
- James Lankford (Oklahoma)
- Steve Daines (Montana)
- Ron Johnson (Wisconsin)
- Mike Braun (Indiana)
Joining them were 4 Senators Elect:
- Tommy Tuberville (Alabama)
- Bill Hagerty (Tennessee)
- Roger Marshall (Kansas)
- Cynthia Lummis (Wyoming)
Many Twists... But Little Smoke or Fire
It's been a wild cycle. A global pandemic, lots of turnover in the Executive Branch, and a nation on pins and needles have – perhaps – blown things up to new levels of drama.
However, so far at least, the system has mostly worked as designed. I'll revisit this post as we head towards certification (January 6) and President-Elect Biden's inauguration (January 20).
Be safe out there.