President-elect Joe Biden may have been called the projected winner of the 2020 presidential race on Nov. 8 after clinching Pennsylvania, but due to the role of the Electoral College, the public won’t officially find out who will be the next president of the United States until mid-December.
This is because the United States elects the leader of the country based on votes cast by the Electoral College, rather than the national popular vote. While elections of mayors, governors, and Congress members are determined by which candidate gets the most votes, the office of the presidency is actually decided by 538 electors.
In addition to one for each senator, every state receives a different number of electoral votes based on how many representatives it has in the House. Thus, states with a higher population tend to have more electoral votes to represent the number of voters within their borders. When Americans cast their ballots on or ahead of Election Day, their votes designate electoral votes towards a particular candidate.
The magic number for a candidate to win the presidency? 270 electoral votes. Now that the American public has spoken, here’s what’s next for the Electoral College in 2020.
Starting on Election Day, news outlets that are part of the National Election Pool use a variety of methods to start sharing projections based off of precincts reporting, as well as other factors. While many major news outlets said predictions wouldn’t be as accurate on election night as usual due to high levels of early voting, both in person and by mail this year, votes have since been tallied up and Biden is projected to have 306 electoral votes as of Friday, Nov. 13.
Before the former vice president takes the oath of office on Inauguration Day in January, President Trump’s campaign must ask for any state recounts and complete any legal challenges by Dec. 8, per the Associated Press. Next, on Dec. 14, electors in the Electoral College will cast their ballots for president and vice president, and sign Certificates of the Vote. These certificates must be sent to officials by Dec. 23.
Finally, on Jan. 6, the House of Representatives and Senate will go into session to count the electoral votes. The candidate who gets to at least 270 electoral votes will then be officially announced as the next president of the United States by the president of the Senate.
While the Electoral College was written into the Constitution, it has come under controversy for a few reasons since its inception.
Twice in recent history, presidential candidates who lost the popular vote still won the election.
While almost 3 million more Americans voted for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, she lost to President Donald Trump, who won 304 electoral votes compared to her 277 votes. During the 2000 election, the same thing happened when President George W. Bush beat Al Gore (who won 543,895 more votes) with just 271 electoral votes after the Supreme Court blocked a Florida recount.
Another issue is that while electors pledge to support their party’s candidate and cast their vote accordingly, they don’t always do that. For example, back in 2016, seven electors voted for someone other than their party’s candidate. According to the Associated Press, 33 states and Washington D.C. require electors to vote based on the popular vote of their state, and in some states, electors who don’t vote as they pledge to can be replaced or otherwise penalized. However, it’s not a fail-proof system.
In addition, some peoples’ votes carry more weight than others, depending on where they live. In sparsely-populated states, the ratio of their electoral college votes to population gives a voter in Wyoming more influence than a voter in a high-populated state like California.
Critics argue that if the Electoral College was abolished and the president were elected by popular vote, every voter’s ballot would have been given equal weight over the election’s outcome.
While Arizona, North Carolina, and Georgia have not completely finished counting all their votes as of Friday, Nov. 13 and President Trump’s campaign has already hinted at contesting the vote, projected President-elect Biden has already secured the 270 electoral votes needed to become the next occupant of the White House.
However, with weeks to go until the Electoral College officially cast their votes and potential legal challenges from President Trump on the horizon, the public still has a way to go until the results are official.