538 members of the Electoral College
270 electoral votes needed to win
Electoral college votes
2020 U.S. presidential election
|Attempts to overturn|
|2021 United States|
|Timeline of events|
The count of the Electoral College ballots during a joint session of the 117th United States Congress, pursuant to the Electoral Count Act, on January 6–7, 2021, was the final step to confirm President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election over President Donald Trump.
The event drew unprecedented attention because of the efforts of Trump and his allies to overturn the election results. A group of legislators from Trump's Republican Party announced they would formally object to counting Biden's votes in swing states, while Trump unsuccessfully sought to have Vice President Mike Pence use his presiding role over the count to change the outcome. The joint session adjourned twice to debate objections against the votes won by Biden in Arizona and Pennsylvania; both objections were defeated in the House and Senate, with only six Republican senators supporting the former and seven supporting the latter. Republican representatives also raised objections against votes for Biden from Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin, but these objections failed because they were not co-signed by a senator.
Amid the debate on Arizona's votes, rioters stormed the Capitol building, causing the count to be temporarily halted until officials could safely return to their chambers. The counting resumed in the evening after the Capitol was secured and concluded by the following morning.
The United States Electoral College is the group of presidential electors required by the Constitution to form every four years for the sole purpose of electing the president and vice president. Each state appoints electors according to its legislature, equal in number to its congressional delegation (senators and representatives). Federal office holders cannot be electors. Of the current 538 electors, an absolute majority of 270 or more electoral votes is required to elect the president and vice president. If no candidate achieves an absolute majority there, a contingent election is held by the United States House of Representatives to elect the president, and by the United States Senate to elect the vice president.
Each state and the District of Columbia produces two documents to be forwarded to Congress, a certificate of ascertainment and a certificate of vote. A certificate of ascertainment is an official document that identifies the state's appointed College electors and the tally of the final popular vote count for each candidate in that state in a presidential election; the certificate of ascertainment is submitted after an election by the governor of each state to the archivist of the United States and others, in accordance with 3 U.S.C. §§ 6–14 and the Electoral Count Act. Within the United States' electoral system, the certificates "[represent] a crucial link between the popular vote and votes cast by electors". The certificates must bear the state seal and the governor's signature. Staff from the Office of the Federal Register ensure that each certificate contains all legally required information. When each state's appointed electors meet to vote (on the first Monday after the second Wednesday of December), they sign and record their vote on a certificate of vote, which are then paired with the certificate of ascertainment, which together are sent to be opened and counted by congress.
The 12th Amendment mandates Congress assemble in joint session to count the electoral votes and declare the winners of the election. The Electoral Count Act, a federal law passed in 1887, further established specific procedures for the counting of the electoral votes by the joint Congress. The session is ordinarily required to take place on January 6 in the calendar year immediately following the meetings of the presidential electors. Since the 20th Amendment, the newly elected joint Congress declares the winner of the election; all elections before 1936 were determined by the outgoing Congress.
A state's certificate of vote can be rejected only if both Houses of Congress, debating separately, vote to accept an objection by a majority in each House. If the objection is approved by both Houses, the state's votes are not included in the count. Individual votes can also be objected to, and are also not counted. If there are no objections or all objections are overruled, the presiding officer simply includes a state's votes, as declared in the certificate of vote, in the official tally. After the certificates from all states are read and the respective votes are counted, the presiding officer simply announces the final state of the vote. This announcement concludes the joint session and formalizes the recognition of the president-elect and of the vice president-elect. The senators then depart from the House chamber. The final tally is printed in the Senate and House journals.
President Trump, his campaign, and his supporters engaged in numerous attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 United States presidential election.
In December 2020, a draft executive order, "Presidential Findings to Preserve and Collect Analyze National Security Information Regarding the 2020 General Election," laid out a plan for overturning the election results. It was dated December 16. According to this plan, the military would seize voting machines; the Trump White House would delay the transition to the Biden administration while Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and the Defense Department decided whether the election had been fair; and Trump would appoint a special counsel to prosecute those involved in the election.
On December 28, 2020, Republican U.S. Representative Louis Gohmert of Texas and the slate of Republican presidential electors for Arizona filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas against Vice President Mike Pence, seeking to force him to decide the election outcome. Gohmert argued that the Electoral Count Act of 1887 was unconstitutional, that the Constitution gave Vice President Pence the "sole" power to decide the election outcome, and that Pence had the power to "count elector votes certified by a state's executive", select "a competing slate of duly qualified electors," or "ignore all electors from a certain state." On January 1, 2021, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Kernodle dismissed the suit for lack of standing. The next day, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit dismissed Gohmert's appeal in a unanimous decision by a three-judge panel.
President Trump had repeatedly raised with his vice president the notion he could delay or obstruct the Electoral College vote count set to occur in Congress on January 6 and was "confused" on why Vice-President Pence could not unilaterally reject electoral votes and overturn the results of the election. Trump had argued that Pence, instead of simply acting in his constitutionally prescribed role, could delay the count beyond January 6 and ultimately force the question of who won the election to either the House of Representatives or the Supreme Court. However, on January 5, Pence told Trump that he did not have the authority to block counting of votes for President-elect Joe Biden's win in the joint session of Congress to count electoral votes.
Another proposed method was to reject results in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Arizona, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Mexico by alleging that these states had sent competing sets of electors. If the results from those seven states had been rejected, neither candidate would have had the 270 votes required in the Electoral College, and the House would have had to decide the election.
This strategy, including the drafting of fake documents for the supposedly competing electors, was coordinated by Rudy Giuliani in December 2020. Boris Epshteyn acknowledged being involved. Attorney John C. Eastman mentioned it in a January 4 meeting with Trump and Pence.
In reality, the states only sent one set of electors each. The Trump campaign sent its own supposedly competing electors and backed them by forged documents. While real state certificates tend to have "their own quirks, their own fancy or not fancy paper and decorations and seals," the Republicans' fake documents had the "same formatting, same font, same spacing, almost the same exact wording, all of them," as MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow noted.
In Pennsylvania and Nevada, the documents explicitly admitted that these "electors in waiting" were not the state's official electors and were only being proposed as alternate electors pending the outcome of Trump's election lawsuits. In the other five states, however, the documents fraudulently identified the Trump allies as the official state electors. As of January 2022, the Justice Department is investigating the matter. The 59 people who presented themselves as fake electors could face federal and state charges.
In December 2020, several Republican members of the House led by Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama as well as Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, declared that they would formally object to the counting of the electoral votes of five swing states won by Biden during the January 6, 2021, joint session. The objections would then trigger votes from both houses. In December Brooks organized three White House meetings between Trump, Republican lawmakers, and others, including Vice President Pence and members of Trump's legal team. As Brooks confirmed at the time, the purpose of the meetings was to strategize about how Congress could overturn the election results on January 6.
The last time an objection was successfully filed was after the 2004 presidential election, when Senator Barbara Boxer of California joined Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio in filing a congressional objection to the certification of Ohio's Electoral College votes due to alleged irregularities. The Senate voted the objection down 1–74; the House voted the objection down 31–267.
At least 140 House Republicans reportedly planned to vote against the 2020 counting of electoral votes, despite the lack of any credible allegation of an irregularity that would have affected the election, and the allegations' rejections by courts, election officials, the Electoral College, and others, and despite the fact that almost all of the Republican objectors had "just won elections in the very same balloting they are now claiming was fraudulently administered."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who on December 15 acknowledged Biden's victory the day after the Electoral College vote, privately urged his Republican Senate colleagues not to join efforts by some House Republicans to challenge the vote count, but was unable to persuade Hawley not to lodge an objection. Hawley used his objection stance in fundraising emails. Twelve additional Republican Senators and Senators-elect (Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson, James Lankford, Steve Daines, John Kennedy, Marsha Blackburn, Mike Braun, Cynthia Lummis, Roger Marshall, Bill Hagerty, Tommy Tuberville, and Kelly Loeffler) eventually announced that they would join Hawley's challenge, while acknowledging that it would not succeed.
On January 2, 2021, Vice President Pence expressed support for the attempt to overturn Biden's victory. Neither Pence nor the senators planning to object made any specific allegation of fraud; rather, they vaguely suggested that some wrongdoing might have taken place. Other Senate Republicans were noncommittal or opposed to the attempt to subvert the election results.
A spokesperson for President-elect Biden called the proposed objection effort a publicity stunt that would fail, a statement echoed by Senator Amy Klobuchar, the top Democrat of the committee with jurisdiction over federal elections. A bipartisan group of senators condemned the scheme to undo the election for Trump; Joe Manchin (D-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), Mark Warner (D-VA), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Angus King (I-ME), Mitt Romney (R-UT), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) said, "The 2020 election is over. All challenges through recounts and appeals have been exhausted. At this point, further attempts to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 Presidential election are contrary to the clearly expressed will of the American people and only serve to undermine Americans' confidence in the already determined election results." In a separate statement, Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, denounced his Republican colleagues who have sought to overturn the election results, terming them "the institutional arsonist members of Congress" and the submission of objection to counting the electoral votes as a "dangerous ploy" by Republican members of Congress who, in seeking "a quick way to tap into the president's populist base", were pointing "a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government." Other prominent Republicans who spoke out against attempts to subvert the election results included Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, former House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-highest-ranking Republican in the House.
Objections to the electoral votes had virtually no chance of success, as Democrats had a majority in the House of Representatives. Although the Senate had a Republican majority, there was no committed majority for overturning the election results. Trevor Potter, a Republican former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and the president of the Campaign Legal Center, wrote that the counting joint session "gives Trump's die-hard supporters in Congress an opportunity to again provide more disinformation about the election on national television." After Senator John Thune, the second highest-ranking Senate Republican, said that the challenge to the election results would fail "like a shot dog" in the Senate, Trump attacked him on Twitter.
In December, Trump repeatedly encouraged his supporters to protest in Washington, D.C. on January 6 in support of his campaign to overturn the election results, appealing his supporters to "Be there, will be wild!" The Washington Post editorial board criticized Trump for urging street protests, referring to previous violence by some Trump supporters at two earlier rallies and his earlier statement during a presidential debate telling the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by." Multiple groups of "die-hard" Trump supporters planned rallies in D.C. on that day: Women for America First; the Eighty Percent Coalition (also at Freedom Plaza); the group's name refers to the approximately 80% of Trump voters who do not accept the legitimacy of Biden's win); and "The Silent Majority" (a group organized by a South Carolina conservative activist). George Papadopoulos and Roger Stone, ardent allies of Trump, planned to headline some of the events. In addition to the formally organized events, the Proud Boys, other far-right groups, and white supremacists vowed to descend on Washington on January 6, with some threatening violence and pledging to carry weapons. Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio said that his followers would "be incognito" and "spread across downtown DC in smaller teams." On January 4, Tarrio was arrested by D.C. police on misdemeanor and felony charges.
On January 10, a number of companies (including the financial company Morgan Stanley and the hotel chain Marriott, which each have their own PAC) announced they would cease their political contributions to members of Congress who had voted against certifying the Electoral College results.
The joint session of Congress met at 1:00 p.m. EST to count the results of the Electoral College. Prior to the vote, Pence released a letter to Congress which denied the assertion that Pence, as the presiding officer of the count, had "unilateral authority" to overturn any state results. (See also Gohmert v. Pence.)
The results from each state were opened and read one at a time, in alphabetical order. The results of Alabama and Alaska were read without objection. The results of Arizona were then objected to by Paul Gosar (AZ-4) and Ted Cruz (TX). Because of the objection, the joint session adjourned at 1:15 p.m. to allow each chamber to debate and vote on the objection.
During the debate of Arizona's votes, Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol at approximately 2:15 p.m. and members of the House of Representatives and Senate were promptly evacuated from the Capitol by Capitol Police, and Congress was placed under lockdown. The District of Columbia National Guard, as well as the National Guards and state police of the neighboring states of Virginia and Maryland, were activated within the hour. At approximately 5:40 p.m., the Sergeant-at-Arms announced that the Capitol building had been secured. Congress then reconvened at 8:00 p.m. and politicians from both parties condemned both Trump and the rioters' failed insurrection.
Before the session resumed, at 7:00 p.m. Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, left a voice message to Senator Mike Lee by mistake, as the intended recipient was Senator Tommy Tuberville. Lee subsequently released the message to the public. In the message, Giuliani is heard saying: "I know they're reconvening at 8 tonight, but it ... the only strategy we can follow is to object to numerous states and raise issues so that we get ourselves into tomorrow – ideally until the end of tomorrow." The legal or tactical purpose of the attempted delay is not clear; but may have been to form the basis of another legal challenge if the certification could not have been finalized on the 6th. Senator Tuberville was not aware of the message intended for him until after it became public. How many other members of Congress received similar calls is not known.
Debate on the objection to Arizona's electoral votes resumed at 8:00 p.m., and both chambers spent some time condemning the storming of the Capitol. The Senate then voted to reject the objection by 6–93 at 10:10 p.m., and was followed by the House rejection by 121–303 at 11:08 p.m. The joint session resumed again shortly afterwards where Pence requested the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House to report the actions of both, with the written objection being formally rejected, allowing the session to resume for the rest of the states. Objections to the electoral votes of Georgia, Michigan and Nevada were raised by Republican members of the House, but were not sustained because no senator joined the objection. In the case of Georgia, Senator Kelly Loeffler (R–GA) had withdrawn her objection after the unrest. After the failed objection to Michigan's electoral votes, the outstanding planned objections for Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin totaling 36 votes were not sufficient to deny the Biden/Harris ticket the 270 votes needed to win. Representative Jake LaTurner was notified of his positive diagnosis with COVID after the vote on Arizona and went into isolation, missing the Pennsylvania vote.
The next state objected to was Pennsylvania where Scott Perry (PA-10) and Josh Hawley (MO) objected to the results, and the joint session adjourned at 12:15 a.m. The Senate held no further debate and within minutes the Senate rejected the objection by a 7–92 vote. The House held a debate where there was a single instance of disruption during a speech by Conor Lamb (PA-17). An objection by Morgan Griffith (VA-9) to Lamb's words was denied over timeliness, during which Andy Harris (MD-1) and Colin Allred (TX-32) began arguing with each other and ended up confronting each other. The confrontation was broken up and Lamb's speech continued after the disruption. After further debate, the House voted to reject the objection at 3:08 a.m. by a 138-282 vote.
The joint session resumed once again at 3:25 a.m., with the Secretary and the Clerk reporting the results of the vote, formally rejecting the second written objection. The session resumed the tallying of the results. At 3:33 a.m., the electoral votes of Vermont were counted, putting the Biden/Harris ticket over the 270 electoral votes needed to secure the presidency and vice presidency. The final objection was to Wisconsin, but it failed because no senator joined the objection. The joint session was dissolved by Pence at 3:44 a.m.
Republican Congressman Peter Meijer said that several of his Republican colleagues in the House would have voted to certify the votes, but did not out of fear for the safety of their families, and that at least one specifically voted to overturn Biden's victory against their conscience because they were shaken by the mob attack that day.
|Arizona||11||Biden/Harris||Paul Gosar (R–AZ-4)||Ted Cruz (R–TX)||121–303||6–93||Objection defeated|
|District of Columbia||3||Biden/Harris||None||N/A||No objection|
|Georgia||16||Biden/Harris||Jody Hice (R–GA-10)||None[b]||N/A||Objection not debated|
|Maine||4||3 for Biden/Harris
1 for Trump/Pence[c]
|Michigan||16||Biden/Harris||Marjorie Taylor Greene
|None||N/A||Objection not debated|
|Nebraska||5||4 for Trump/Pence
1 for Biden/Harris[c]
|Nevada||6||Biden/Harris||Mo Brooks (R–AL-5)||None||N/A||Objection not debated|
|New Hampshire||4||Biden/Harris||None||N/A||No objection|
|New Jersey||14||Biden/Harris||None||N/A||No objection|
|New Mexico||5||Biden/Harris||None||N/A||No objection|
|New York||29||Biden/Harris||None||N/A||No objection|
|North Carolina||15||Trump/Pence||None||N/A||No objection|
|North Dakota||3||Trump/Pence||None||N/A||No objection|
|Pennsylvania||20||Biden/Harris||Scott Perry (R–PA-10)||Josh Hawley (R–MO)||138–282||7–92||Objection defeated|
|Rhode Island||4||Biden/Harris||None||N/A||No objection|
|South Carolina||9||Trump/Pence||None||N/A||No objection|
|South Dakota||3||Trump/Pence||None||N/A||No objection|
|West Virginia||5||Trump/Pence||None||N/A||No objection|
|Wisconsin||10||Biden/Harris||Louie Gohmert (R–TX-1)||None||N/A||Objection not debated|
|Party||Votes for||Votes against||Not voting||Not present|
|Party||Votes for||Votes against||Not voting|
|Party||Votes for||Votes against||Not voting||Not present|
|Party||Votes for||Votes against||Not voting|
Several large companies announced they were suspending all political donations, and others have suspended funding the lawmakers who had objected to certifying Electoral College results, and who became pejoratively known as the Sedition Caucus.
The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.