WASHINGTON — Presidential electors are meeting across the United States today to formally choose Joe Biden as the nation’s next president.
Today is the day set by law for the meeting of the Electoral College. In reality, electors meet in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to cast their ballots. The results will be sent to Washington and tallied in a Jan. 6 joint session of Congress over which Vice President Mike Pence will preside.
The electors’ votes have drawn more attention than usual this year because President Donald Trump has refused to concede the election and continued to make baseless allegations of fraud.
Biden is planning to address the nation tonight, after the electors have voted. Trump, meanwhile, is clinging to his false claims that he won the election, but also undermining Biden’s presidency even before it begins. “No, I worry about the country having an illegitimate president, that’s what I worry about. A president that lost and lost badly,” Trump said in a Fox News interview that was taped Saturday.
Following weeks of Republican legal challenges that were easily dismissed by judges, Trump and Republican allies tried to persuade the Supreme Court last week to set aside 62 electoral votes for Biden in four states, which might have thrown the outcome into doubt.
The justices rejected the effort on Friday.
Biden won 306 electoral votes to 232 votes for Trump. It takes 270 votes to be elected.
In 32 states and the District of Columbia, laws require electors to vote for the popular-vote winner. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld this arrangement in July.
Electors almost always vote for the state winner anyway because they generally are devoted to their political party. There’s no reason to expect any defections this year. Among prominent electors are Democrat Stacey Abrams of Georgia and Republican Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota.
The voting is decidedly low tech, by paper ballot. Electors cast one vote each for president and vice president.
The Electoral College was the product of compromise during the drafting of the Constitution between those who favored electing the president by popular vote and those who opposed giving the people the power to choose their leader.
Each state gets a number of electors equal to their total number of seats in Congress: two senators plus however many members the state has in the House of Representatives. Washington, D.C., has three votes, under a constitutional amendment that was ratified in 1961. With the exception of Maine and Nebraska, states award all their Electoral College votes to the winner of the popular vote in their state.
The bargain struck by the nation’s founders has produced five elections in which the president did not win the popular vote. Trump was the most recent example in 2016.
Biden topped Trump by more than 7 million votes this year.
And then there’s one more step: inauguration.