Electors from every state will meet on Monday to formally elect Joe Biden as the next president amid an unprecedented effort by President Trump to overturn the election.
The Electoral College vote, which comes after all 50 states have certified their results, is not in doubt. Biden should finish with 306 votes, compared to 232 for Trump.
But the vote will take place as the sitting president refuses to accept the outcome, which has never happened in modern times.
Trump and his allies have doubled down on unsubstantiated claims that the election was stolen from him through widespread corruption and fraud.
The president’s campaign, which has lost dozens of legal challenges in recent weeks, suffered another setback over the weekend when the Supreme Court rejected a Texas lawsuit seeking to throw out the results in four states.
Trump’s allies have discussed everything from pushing GOP state legislatures to send Republican electors in states that Biden won, to protesting the vote count when Congress gathers on Jan. 6 to certify the Electoral College results.
While the Electoral College vote has historically been a drama-free exercise, 2016 was a recent high watermark for “faithless electors” breaking from the candidates they were bound to support.
Election lawyers do not expect a meaningful revolt this time around.
But they say the president’s efforts to sow chaos could produce a few surprises throughout the day and electors are bracing for confrontations with protesters.
“I see no chance of anything meaningful happening,” said Mark Braden, the former chief counsel for the Republican National Committee. “Maybe a few people will try to make some noise. Who knows anymore. I’ve been surprised this whole time by what people are willing to do. But this election is over and it has been for a long time.”
Electors representing each state’s Electoral College vote allocation will head to their state capitals to cast ballots on Monday.
Nearly every state in the country is winner-take-all, so Democratic slates of electors will vote in states that Biden won and Republican electors will vote in states that Trump won.
Following Trump’s shocking victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, some Democrats claimed the election had been stolen through fraud or Russian interference. There was enormous pressure from some anti-Trump activists for GOP electors to revolt.
There were not enough defectors that year to put the outcome in question, but 10 faithless electors cast votes for political figures that were not in the running.
Those moves ended up costing Clinton five votes and Trump two votes, with three being nullified. Many states have laws on the books to discourage faithless electors or to replace them with electors willing to fulfill their duties.
In 2020, the Democratic slates of electors don’t feel any pressure to break with Biden.
“I don’t think there will be any faithless electors this time around,” said Jerry H. Goldfeder, a veteran elections lawyer and professor at Fordham Law School. “We have an expression in Yiddish that means, ‘Go in good health.’ Fine. Fight it if you want. But I don’t expect anything but an Electoral College victory with 306 votes for Biden.”
Still, some of the electors feel frustration and anxiety as they venture out to cast their ballots.
The president’s rhetoric has reached new extremes and millions of his supporters believe the election was stolen from him.
Trump has accused his Democratic rivals – and even some elected Republican officials – of conspiring to commit a traitorous coup.
"I’m anxious because there are people out there who are crazy,” said Van Johnson, the Democratic mayor of Savannah, Ga., and one of the state’s electors. “The safety of everyone has to be considered and kept in the forefront of our minds as we take on this process.”
The electors say they’re planning for everything to ensure the process runs smoothly.
"It’s clear that the vote of the Electoral college will stand,” said Ben Wikler, the Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman and an elector. “Congress is not going to overturn it. What does concern me is the willingness to throw out a valid election and the fact that some politicians think there’s a political advantage in opposing American democracy.”
"What was once a formality becomes an international news event,” he continued. “You go through contingency plans and what-if scenarios that would have been the plot of a thriller just four years ago.”
Trump and his campaign have signaled they will continue the fight beyond Monday.
In a statement, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani dismissed the Dec. 8 “safe harbor deadline,” when the states certified their results, as a meaningless “statutory deadline.”
He said the next important deadline is Jan. 6, when Congress will meet to certify the Electoral College vote.
That day is likely to produce some fireworks.
Several GOP lawmakers have indicated they’ll protest their state’s Electoral College vote count, which is possible if one House member and one senator from a state join forces.
The Democratic-controlled House would quickly override that action. Even if the GOP-controlled Senate recognized it, the governors of the contested states have the final word and would stick with the results they already certified.
Still, Giuliani indicated the Trump campaign would contest the outcome to the bitter end.
The Trump campaign has raked in more than $200 million since the election by fundraising off of his voter fraud claims.
“The only fixed day in the U.S. Constitution is the inauguration of the president on January 20 at noon,” Giuliani said. “Despite the media trying desperately to proclaim that the fight is over, we will continue to champion election integrity until legal vote is counted fairly and accurately.”
The president and his team say they’re holding out hope for lawsuits that are working their way through the individual states. But the Trump team’s track record has been terrible so far and legal experts do not see any viable path to a second term for the president.