How Congress will decide the 2020 presidential election on Jan. 6: Yahoo News Explains

The presidential election was on Nov. 3; most news organizations pronounced Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the winners a few days later; states certified their results by Dec. 8; and the Electoral College met on Dec. 14. But there’s still a bit of election business to wrap up between now and Inauguration Day. Yahoo News explains how the next Congress may ultimately decide the 2020 election — on Jan. 6, 2021.

Video Transcript


SAM MATTHEWS: Remember November 3, election day? When you think about it, it wasn't that long ago. It just feels like a time from a galaxy far, far away. But somehow, despite the odds, there are still a few bits of election business to take care of. First is a pair of run-off Senate elections in Georgia on January 5.

Now these are getting a lot of attention, and rightly so because they'll decide control of the Senate. If either Republican candidate wins, the GOP maintains a majority. And the incoming Biden-Harris administration will need their help to pass any legislation. But if both Democrats win, they'll be even 50/50 split between the parties, with Vice President-elect Harris getting the deciding vote once she's sworn in.

Both parties have a lot riding on that January 5 vote in Georgia. But in the meantime, President Trump seems a little more invested in what happens the next day. That's because on January 6, members of the new Congress will be sworn in and hold a joint session to count and validate the electoral college votes for president. It's mandated by law, sure, but largely ceremonial.

The electoral votes are carried into the chamber in ornate boxes. Members of Congress look them over. And then the Vice President declares the winner. It's been done in as little as 30 minutes. And the only real event of note is that sometimes the current Vice President has to declare their opponent the winner of the election, like Al Gore in 2001 or Richard Nixon in 1961 or Mike Pence this time.

But during that part where they're looking through the electoral votes, if at least two members, one from the House and one from the Senate, object to the results, Congress then goes into two hours of debate. And then the objection is put to a vote. President Trump has been tweeting about this a lot. And many of his supporters seem to believe this will be the turning point, where every misstep since November 3 will be revealed as part of some kind of master strategy, and hand Trump another four years.

Over the last few weeks, a handful of Republicans in the House have said that they are planning to object to certain electoral results, including Georgia representative Jody Hice, who was re-elected in the same state where he is alleging voter irregularities. On the Senate side, it's less definite. Incoming Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville has suggested that he will join in. But it's not a done deal.

But let's say that does happen. It may be kind of fun to watch. But once it's over, it'll go to a vote. And it will need to pass by a majority in both chambers. And in the Senate, there are several Republicans who have already ruled it out, like Mitt Romney, Ron Johnson, even Mitch McConnell. So it's hard to conceive of a scenario where an objection to a single state's vote goes anywhere, let alone the multiple states that would be needed to change the election results.

Now members objecting to a single state's results does happen. As recently as 2005, Senator Barbara Boxer and Ohio representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones filed objections to the electoral results in Ohio for the 2004 election. They debated it. It was shot down in a vote. And President George W. Bush was declared the winner. There was never really any chance or hope that those objections would overturn the election result.

In a much closer election in 2001, several Democrats in the house objected to Florida's results following the recount. But Vice President Gore, who lost that election, had no choice but to dismiss them, because no members of the Senate joined in. And that brings us to the current Vice President, Mike Pence.

In the all but certain event that the electoral college results are counted and show that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won, it's going to be up to him to declare his opponent victorious. Look, it's a tough situation to be in. And if, for some reason he's not up to it, there is another option.

The longest-serving member of the majority party in the Senate, in this case Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who has already acknowledged Joe Biden as President-elect, would take over the proceedings. And then it's his job to declare the winner.

So brace yourself. Even though our calendars may change on January 1, 2020 isn't quite over yet.