Tonight’s Civics Discussion

I wanted to understand what is supposed to happen in Washington tomorrow, when Congress is legally required to formally announce that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the election. The law that describes the proceedings is 3 U.S. Code Ā§ 15 – Counting electoral votes in Congress. It’s not easy to read, but this is what it says (with my comments, helpful or not, in italics):

CongressĀ shall be in session on the sixth day of January succeeding every meeting of the electors.

TheĀ SenateĀ andĀ House of RepresentativesĀ shall meet in the Hall of theĀ House of RepresentativesĀ at the hour of 1 oā€™clock in the afternoon on that day, and the President of theĀ SenateĀ shall be their presiding officer.

Two tellers shall be previously appointed on the part of theĀ SenateĀ and two on the part of theĀ House of Representatives, to whom shall be handed, as they are opened by the President of theĀ Senate [in this case, Vice President Pence], all the certificates and papers purporting to be certificates of the electoral votes [from the various states and the District of Columbia],

[these] certificates and papers shall be opened, presented, and acted upon in the alphabetical order of theĀ States,Ā beginning with the letter A [reminding us where the alphabet starts];

said tellers, having . . . read the same in the presence and hearing of the two Houses, shall make a list of the votes as they shall appear from the said certificates; and the votes having been ascertained and counted . . . , the result of the same shall be delivered to the President of theĀ Senate, who shall thereupon announce theĀ stateĀ of the vote, which announcement shall be deemed a sufficient declaration of the persons, if any, elected President andĀ Vice PresidentĀ of the UnitedĀ States . . .


Upon such reading of any such certificate or paper, the President of theĀ SenateĀ shall call for objections, if any. [So after the tellers announce the results from a given state or the District of Columbia, the Vice President will ask if there is any objection].

Every objection shall be made in writing, and shallĀ stateĀ clearly and concisely, and without argument, the ground thereof, and shall be signed by at least one Senator and one Member of theĀ House of RepresentativesĀ before the same shall be received.

When all objections so made to any vote or paper from aĀ StateĀ shall have been received and read, theĀ SenateĀ shall thereupon withdraw, and such objections shall be submitted to theĀ SenateĀ for its decision; and the Speaker of theĀ House of RepresentativesĀ shall, in like manner, submit such objections to theĀ House of RepresentativesĀ for its decision;

and no electoral vote or votes from anyĀ StateĀ which shall have been regularly given by electors whose appointment has been lawfully certified to . . . from which but one return has been received shall be rejected [for this election, that’s every state plus the District of Columbia],

[except that] the two Houses concurrently may reject the vote or votes when they agree that such vote or votes have not been so regularly given by electors whose appointment has been so certified.

[The law then explains in convoluted language what happens if a state submitted more than one certificate — but that has never happened]

When the two Houses have voted [on a particular objection], they shall immediately again meet, and the presiding officer shall then announce the decision of the questions submitted. No votes or papers from any otherĀ StateĀ shall be acted upon until the objections previously made to the votes or papers from anyĀ StateĀ shall have been finally disposed of.


Thus, after the Senate or House has rejected all of the objections, the Vice President, as stated above, reads the final numbers, declaring who was elected President and Vice President of the United States.

There may be pointless objections to the results from six states, beginning with Arizona and ending with Wisconsin, so the process that sometimes takes less than 30 minutes might not finish until Thursday. That’s if there are objections to all of those states and the Senate or House actually spend two hours discussing and voting on each objection, all of which will be defeated in both houses of Congress, even the one controlled by the odious Republican senator Mitch McConnell.

As we can see, the law requires the Vice President to open the envelopes, ask for objections and read the final result. He has no authority to do anything else. I expect he’ll say something to try to make President Nut Job happy, but perform his assigned tasks. If he grabs the certificates and runs away, or refuses to announce the final result, or announces it in Esperanto, things could get weirder than they already are.