Real talk: The Constitution doesn’t have feelings. As protests continue around the country surrounding the election of Donald Trump to be our next president, the machinations of government that will certify last Tuesday’s results and formally elect Trump are whirring away. We all know that the president is chosen not by the voters themselves (who actually chose Hillary Clinton) but by the Electoral College. But few of us know what happens when the Electoral College meets, and considering it’s a cornerstone of our republic, I thought we better find out.
First, the national Electoral College doesn’t meet as a single body. Instead, as outlined by the 12th Amendment, the electors meet in their respective states. The states must make final decisions regarding the appointment of electors six days in advance of their meeting, so that when they cast their ballots, there’s no question as to their validity.
From there, things get downright bureaucratic. After the election and as soon as the results are certified, the governor of each state (and the mayor of the District of Columbia) prepares in septuplicate (that’s seven copies) a Certificate of Ascertainment saying what went down in their state, and send one off to the Archivist of the United States, and saves the rest for the meeting of the electors in December.
Federal law dictates that the electors all meet in their states on the same day — the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, which this year is Dec. 19 — and cast their ballots, voting separately for president and vice president. If there were any “faithless elector” shenanigans that would happen, this is when that would take place (though, again, the likelihood of any Electoral College surprises is basically nil).
The electors record their votes on six Certificates of Vote, which are paired with the remaining six Certificates of Ascertainment, and are sent out as follows: one set to the president of the U.S. Senate (aka the vice president… yes, Joey the Shark, that is, Joe Biden, will have to preside over the official counting of the electoral votes that will make Donald Trump President); two sets to the state where the vote took place's secretary of state (one set is archival, the other is a backup for the Senate set); two sets to the Archivist of the United States (again, one archival, one backup); and a final backup set to the presiding district court judge where the electors met, also for backup.
The Certificates of Vote are received by the Senate by late December, and they’re opened and officially counted on Jan. 6, 2017. At that point, objections to the Electoral College vote can be officially submitted, but must be signed by one member each of the House and the Senate. (You may recall the opening scenes of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, where representatives from Ohio attempted to object to the 2000 vote, but couldn’t get any senators to sign their complaint.)
Assuming nothing strange happens between now and then — that is, stranger than what’s already going down — then Trump will be inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017.