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Joe Biden is president-elect. Here’s what has to happen before he’s sworn in

Joseph Biden became the presumptive president-elect on Saturday, when the Associated Press and other news outlets declared the Democrat and former vice president won enough states to secure 270 Electoral College votes.

But many election protocols remain before inauguration day. County and state results must be canvassed and certified, and a slate of electors must be delegated to the Electoral College. 

During this time, President Donald Trump has the opportunity to come forward with any evidence of wrongdoing in an attempt to persuade the courts to intervene in his exceedingly small chance of remaining president. 

With a flurry of more than a dozen election lawsuits in several battleground states including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia, the Trump campaign has already mounted a legal effort to challenge election results. 

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Here are some key election dates and procedures taking place from now until Jan. 20, 2021, when Donald Trump’s first presidential term officially ends. 

Nov. 17: County canvassing boards certify results

Election results must be certified by a canvassing board to be considered official. 

In Michigan, county canvassers must complete canvasses of the general election results by Nov. 17. 

The 83 county canvassing boards are each composed of two Republicans and two Democrats. The board members review election results and ensure the number of voters in each precinct matches the number of ballots cast. Board members are also responsible for conducting recounts when necessary. 

After at least three members of the four-person canvassing board have certified election results, county clerks then share the results with the Secretary of State within 24 hours.

Nov. 23: State canvassers certify results, deadlines for recount

After county boards have completed canvasses of the presidential election, the board of state canvassers has until Nov. 23 to meet to certify the results for the state.

There are four members of the Michigan state board of canvassers: Chair Jeannette Bradshaw, a Democrat; Vice Chair, Aaron Van Langevelde, a Republican; Norman D. Shinkle, a Republican, and Julie Matuzak, a Democrat. The members are appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. 

Again, three out of four state canvassers must certify the results. 

County and state canvassers could decide not to certify election results if they believe election law was violated. If more than one canvasser does so, this could lead to a battle in court, with Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, other canvassers, clerks or campaigns ordering them to certify the election. 

Recounts can only be requested within 48 hours after the state canvass. A candidate can petition for a recount if they believe they have a reasonable chance of winning the election or if they believe fraud has occured. 

If the trailing candidate is behind by more than 2,000 votes, as is the case for Trump, then the candidate must pay for the recount, $25 per precinct. (Michigan has 4,755 precincts).

Dec. 8: Safe harbor deadline

States have a little more than a month after Election Day to resolve any disputes, including court challenges and recounts, certify election results and send a slate of electors to the Electoral College. 

Under the U.S. Constitution, the Electoral College is the official body which elects the president and vice president. 

Each state has as many electors as it does representatives and senators. In Michigan, these 16 electoral votes automatically go to the presidential candidate winning the popular vote – in this case, Joe Biden. 

Both the Democratic and Republican party nominated their slate of 16 electors in August, one from each of the state’s 14 congressional districts, and two at-large electors. 

Since Joe Biden won the election in Michigan, the Democratic slate of electors will represent the state of Michigan. 

If states do not certify election results and send electors by Dec. 8, Congress has the right to decide which electors cast the state’s ballots for president. 

Dec. 14: The Electoral College meets

On Dec. 14, Michigan electors meet in the state Senate to formally cast their vote for president and vice president. 

Michigan is one of 32 states, along with the District of Columbia, that requires electors to cast their vote for a pledged candidate. That means “faithless electors” are illegal. 

If an elector does not cast a ballot for the pledged candidate, their vote doesn't count and the elector is replaced. 

After the vote, the electors sign, seal and certify the results, which must be received by Congress no later than Dec. 23. 

Jan. 6: Congress counts the electoral votes

After each state submits their set of electoral votes to Congress, at 1 p.m. on Jan. 6, the newly-elected 117th Congress will hold a session to count states’ electoral votes and declare a winner of the presidential election. 

This joint session is required under the 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

In the presence of both chambers, the president of the senate, Vice President Mike Pence, opens states’ results and hands them to four tellers, two from each chamber, who read the results. 

According to the 133-year-old Electoral Count Act, a member of the House and the Senate can object to state election results. At least one senator and one House of Representatives member must do so together in writing. 

Both chambers then adjourn for one hour to consider the objection. If they both agree to uphold it, the state’s votes are excluded from the election results.  If the chambers disagree on the objection, the state’s governor becomes the tiebreaker

After all the results are counted, the president of the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence, announces the next president – the candidate who has received at least 270 electoral votes.

Jan. 20: Inauguration day

The president-elect is sworn into office on inauguration day when President Donald Trump’s first term of presidency officially ends at noon on Jan. 20, 2021. 


This article is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. This article is available for reprint under the terms of Votebeat’s republishing policy.

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