The Associated Press (AP) called the presidential contest for Joe Biden on November 7th, but not everyone agrees. From Donald Trump’s lips to GOP leadership to supporters on Twitter, the latest arguments about the presidential outcome has been that presidential election projections by the AP or even darling Fox News are hogwash. “The media doesn’t decide elections,” said Ted Cruz. “At this point, we do not know who has prevailed.”
This posture has allowed for allegations to continue about the election’s validity and provided a long runway for Trump’s lawyers, including Rudy Giuliani, to press forward with lawsuits in critical states. Many of those lawsuits have already been tossed, but doubt is being cast until the votes are certified.
So if Cruz says it’s too “premature” to declare a presidential victor and loyalists are relying on state-certified results, how long will it be before GOP leadership is ready to call Joe Biden the president-elect of the United States?
Not before Thanksgiving, per the infographic above. The earliest possible date is looking like December 11th, but it could be longer.
The reason is complicated because each U.S. state follows its own regulations and timelines pertaining to vote certification or canvassing. Ballotpedia defines canvassing as the laws governing the review and certification of state election results.
The world will likely need to wait until California’s fifty-five electoral votes are certified on December 11th until critics’ arguments about “unofficial results” are finally quelled. On that date, the 270 vote certified hurdle is finally cleared.
Delaware, the earliest of all states to canvass, has already certified their results. So has Oklahoma. Virginia is set to approve its results today. But Washington state allows twenty-one days after a general election, so they and similar states may take some time to complete.
Merely waiting for the certification or canvassing results from the battleground states isn’t likely to end the litany of Rudy’s rants on YouTube — although his videos do make me want to smoke cigars. That’s because the certification sequencing of the battleground states’ results won’t be enough to put either candidate above the required 270 vote waterline.
For example, Florida should certify their results tomorrow. Georgia must certify “not later than 5:00 P.M. on the seventeenth day following the date on which such election was conducted,” according to 2019 George Code Title 21. That means this Friday, November 20th.
But even if that all happens according to plan, the total of certified state votes will still only amount to 86 for Biden and 92 for Trump. So we will be made to wait for more official ballots to tally.
A long road to 270 in December
As depicted in the graphic I conjured up above, which is based upon the Associated Press projections, by December 8th, Joe Biden is estimated to receive 239 certified votes to Trump’s 221. Unfortunately, the American public and the world will likely need to wait until California’s fifty-five electoral votes are certified on December 11th until critics’ arguments about “unofficial results” are finally quelled. At that point and on that date, the 270 vote certified hurdle is finally cleared.
There is one caveat to note — four states do not have a required certification date and instead will make a best effort to do so in a timely fashion. Technically, those states have until December 11th. However, Tennessee’s eleven electoral votes projected for Trump and the twelve electoral votes combined for Biden from Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island will do nothing to advance the definitive presidential certification timeline. Therefore, I have assumed that those four states will certify on the same day as California for this analysis.
Then what happens?
The next steps are outlined by the AP: On December 14th, electors in each state and the District of Columbia vote by paper ballot. Thirty-three states and D.C. require electors to cast their ballots based upon the popular vote.
This does leave a potential bogey for rogue or faithless electors to stir the pot. It’s happened in the past, most recently in the last presidential election. In 2016, 10 electors from six states cast their ballots against the popular vote — but it did not affect the outcome. It also happened in 1872, when sixty-three electors changed their votes after the losing candidate, Horace Greeley, died.
This all means that the scenario that results in the earliest end to the critiques about certified versus media-called vote count won’t end until December 12th. But in the worst case, it means certification purists may cry that “states don’t decide elections, the House and Senate do.” And that means more election rejection through January 6th.
That’s because on January 6th, the House and Senate will convene to count the ballots, and the party receiving 270 or more will win. In a bit of irony, the president of the Senate announces the results. Vice President Mike Pence currently hold this position. It would be an interesting plot twist if he refused to call the win for Biden.
From there, the president-elect takes the oath of office on January 20th.