On Monday, 538 electors in all 50 states and the District of Columbia will cast their votes for president, marking a key next step for Joe Biden as he gets closer to officially becoming the 46th president of the United States.
The votes come 41 days after Election Day, on Nov. 3. In the race for the White House, Biden received about 7 million more votes than President Trump, and is expected to attain 306 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 232.
President-elect Biden is set to deliver remarks Monday evening, after the votes.
Here are answers to some common questions regarding the Electoral College:
Why am I hearing so much about this?
Monday’s events represent the next step in this country’s democratic process as it elects a new leader.
Typically, the day is a relatively quiet affair without a lot of fanfare. But in this cycle, because of unprecedented efforts by the incumbent’s campaign and its allies to overturn the results, every election step is being closely watched and analyzed.
So what happens on Monday?
When American voters cast their ballots for a presidential ticket, they are technically voting for a slate of electors that were chosen by that candidate’s political party.
Electors are selected by state parties and are usually involved in the political world as donors, activists or even as political officials themselves.
On Monday, they’ll meet in their respective states to cast their votes.
“I’m feeling excited,” said Nina Ahmad, a first-time elector in Pennsylvania. “I’m feeling glad that the day is finally here and we can do our duty and move on.”
The votes will take place at different times across the country, with the earliest beginning at 10 a.m. ET and the latest at 7 p.m. ET. The locations for these meetings will vary, with the majority being held in state capitols. In Colorado, Nevada and Utah, for instance, the processes will happen virtually.
Many states will offer livestreams for those who wish to view the proceedings.
Could the electoral math change?
The final electoral count could vary slightly depending on whether electors vote as they are expected to.
Although electors are nominated to support a specific candidate, some have strayed in the past, earning them the title of “faithless electors.” In 2016, for example, two such electors voted for Hillary Clinton despite being slated to vote for Trump.
But this practice is not common and many states have rules to punish rogue electors.
Once electors cast their votes, we move on to the next step.
Yes, it’s a process.
The votes are then tallied and electors sign certificates with the results, which will be paired with certificates from governors’ offices that include state vote totals.
From there, the certificates are sent to the National Archives and Records Administration; to every state’s secretary of state; to the presiding judge of the federal district court where the electors met; and to the president of the Senate (Vice President Pence).
Congress will then count the votes during a joint session on Jan. 6 and officially declare the winner.
The final step is inauguration, which is scheduled to take place on Jan. 20.
Is the congressional counting process pretty straightforward?
The House and Senate will jointly meet for the official count.
“Each state’s Electoral College votes are read off in alphabetical order,” explained Robert Alexander, a professor at Ohio Northern University. “If there is a dispute over any of the votes for those states, there needs to be an objection and that objection should be in writing; it should not be verbal. A member of the House must object as well as a member of the Senate in order for that objection to have merit and for them to debate on that objection.”
Should there be sustained objections, House and Senate members will disband into their own chambers and have a limited debate of a few hours, he says.
“Then they have to bring that objection to a vote,” Alexander said. “It would require a majority in both the House and the Senate to carry that objection.”
Alexander suspects there will be some objections stemming from the House Republican caucus in the January session, but said it’s unclear whether a GOP senator would take up the objections as well.
“I foresee shenanigans, I foresee debate, I foresee some drama,” he said, “but I do not foresee any change in the outcome when all the votes are counted.”
NPR’s Miles Parks and Elena Moore contributed to this report.