What to Expect When Congress Meets to Certify Biden’s Victory

On Wednesday, Congress will hold a joint session to record the votes of the Electoral College and confirm the victory of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. The process is normally a perfunctory one, but this time, a number of Republican lawmakers plan to object to the votes of some electors. Here’s how the session will proceed.

Congress convenes

a joint session.

State results are read alphabetically one at a time.

Members can object

after each one.

No objection

Objection

Supported by at least one member of both the House and the Senate?

No

Yes

Joint session suspended.

House and Senate return to respective chambers.

This has only occurred twice since 1887.

Each chamber begins debate.

Limited to two hours, members get five minutes each to speak.

Debate ends. Both chambers vote on objection.

Needs a simple majority

to pass each chamber.

Both chambers vote to accept.

Senate

votes to reject.

House votes to accept.

Senate

votes to accept. House votes to reject.

Both chambers vote to reject.

This is nearly impossible in 2021, since Democrats are in control of the House.

The state’s electoral votes are counted.

The state’s electoral votes are not counted.

Since the Reconstruction Era, this has never happened.

Process repeats with the next state until all states have been called.

Final tally

Does one candidate have at least 270 electoral votes?

Yes

No

The winner is announced by the president of the Senate, typically the vice president.

The House chooses the president, each state getting one vote.

Congress convenes

a joint session.

State results are read alphabetically one at a time.

Members can object

after each one.

No objection

Objection

Supported by at least one member of both the House and the Senate?

No

Yes

Joint session suspended.

House and Senate return to respective chambers.

This has only occurred twice since 1887.

Each chamber begins debate.

Limited to two hours, members get five minutes each to speak.

Debate ends. Both chambers vote on objection.

Needs a simple majority

to pass each chamber.

Both chambers vote to accept.

Senate

votes to reject.

House votes to accept.

Senate

votes to accept. House votes to reject.

Both chambers vote to reject.

This is nearly impossible in 2021, since Democrats are in control of the House.

The state’s electoral votes are counted.

The state’s electoral votes are not counted.

Process repeats with the next state until all states have been called.

Since the Reconstruction Era, this has never happened.

Final tally

Does one candidate have at least 270 electoral votes?

Yes

No

The winner is announced by the president of the Senate, typically the vice president.

The House chooses the president, each state getting one vote.

Congress convenes

a joint session.

State results are read alphabetically one at a time.

Members can object

after each one.

No objection

Objection

Supported by at least one member of both the House and the Senate?

No

Yes

Joint session suspended.

House and Senate return to respective chambers.

This has only occurred twice since 1887.

Each chamber begins debate.

Limited to two hours, members get five minutes each to speak.

Debate ends. Both chambers vote on objection.

Needs a simple majority to pass each chamber.

Both chambers vote to accept.

Senate

votes to reject.

House votes to accept.

Senate

votes to accept. House votes to reject.

This is nearly impossible in 2021, since Democrats are in control of the House.

Both chambers vote to reject.

The state’s electoral votes are counted.

The state’s electoral votes are not counted.

Since the Reconstruction Era, this has never happened.

Process repeats with the next state until all states have been called.

Final tally

Does one candidate have at least 270 electoral votes?

Yes

No

The winner is announced by the president of the Senate, typically the vice president.

The House chooses the president, each state getting one vote.

This chart shows the process when only one set of electoral votes is submitted by a state. The process would be more complicated in the unlikely event that two or more slates of electors from the same state were submitted to Congress.

The Republicans’ effort, based on spurious allegations of widespread voter fraud that have already been rejected in nearly 60 legal cases, is all but certain to fail.

In the weeks leading up to the joint session, scores of Republican lawmakers signaled their intentions to extend a futile quest to overturn the election. In December, more than 120 representatives signed onto an amicus brief filed by the State of Texas in an attempt to overturn Pennsylvania’s election results.

In a joint announcement last Saturday, 11 Republican senators and senators-elect announced their intention to object to some states’ votes, calling for a 10-day audit of election returns in “disputed states,” after a similar announcement by Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri last week.

And on Tuesday, President Trump falsely claimed on Twitter that Vice President Mike Pence had the power to unilaterally throw out electoral votes during the joint session, which is the final official electoral process before inauguration.

Election results have already been certified in all 50 states, and the Democratic majority in the House virtually guarantees that Mr. Biden’s victory will be confirmed on Wednesday. However, the objections planned for Wednesday, based on claims that lack evidence, underscore an era of bare-knuckle politicization that threatens to crack the foundations of even the most routine government proceedings.

“The last four years have demonstrated that law only gets you so far in running a democracy,” said James A. Gardner, a professor of law at the State University of New York who is an expert in constitutional and election law. “What has really been driven home is that the entire constitutional edifice sits on top of a foundation of norms and beliefs and social consensus.” He added of the lawmakers, “If they are not willing to submit themselves to those norms, then there is nothing to restrain them, except force.”