Electors will gather in state capitols across the country on Monday to formally vote for Joe Biden as the next US president, effectively ending President Donald Trump's frenzied but failing attempt to overturn his loss in the Nov. 3 election.
The state-by-state votes, traditionally an afterthought, have taken on outsized significance this year because of Trump's assault on the democratic process. Pushing false claims of widespread fraud, Trump has pressured state officials to throw the election results out and declare him the winner.
Election results show Biden, the Democratic former vice president, won 306 electoral votes - exceeding the 270 needed to win - after four years under the Republican Trump. Biden and running mate Kamala Harris are due to take office on Jan. 20.
There is almost no chance that Monday's voting will negate Biden's victory and, with his legal campaign to reverse the results floundering, Trump's hopes of clinging to power will rest with a special meeting of the US Congress on Jan. 6 where the odds against him are as good as insurmountable.
Under a complicated system dating back to the 1780s, a candidate becomes US president not by winning a majority of the popular vote but through an Electoral College system, which allots electoral votes to the 50 states and the District of Columbia largely based on their population. (Here's a graphic on how the Electoral College works: https://tmsnrt.rs/3lUKcgv)
In capitols such as Lansing, Michigan; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and Atlanta, Georgia, electors - typically party loyalists - will gather on Monday to formally cast those votes.
While there are sometimes a handful of "rogue" electors who vote for someone other than the winner of their state's popular vote, the vast majority rubber-stamp the results, and officials do not expect anything different on Monday.
Trump has called on Republican state legislators to appoint their own electors, essentially ignoring the will of the voters. State lawmakers have largely dismissed the idea.
Trump said late last month he will leave the White House if the Electoral College votes for Biden, but has since pressed on with his unprecedented campaign to overturn his defeat, filing without success numerous lawsuits challenging state vote counts.
On Monday, he repeated a series of false claims of electoral fraud.
"Swing States that have found massive VOTER FRAUD, which is all of them, CANNOT LEGALLY CERTIFY these votes as complete & correct without committing a severely punishable crime," he wrote on Twitter.
A group of Trump supporters called for protests on Monday outside the state Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, one of the battleground states where Trump lost.
"Fraud result is illegitimate. Call off work. Show up. Drive by and honk. Pray. Legal MI voters deserve better. Stop the Steal!!!!" the group, known as Stop the Steal Michigan, said on its Facebook page.
Once the Electoral College vote is complete, Trump's sole remaining gambit would be to convince Congress not to certify the count on Jan. 6.
Any attempt to block a state’s results, and thus change the overall US tally, must pass in both chambers of Congress that day. Republicans would very likely fail to stop Biden taking office as planned on Jan. 20 because Democrats control the House of Representatives and several Republican Senators have acknowledged Biden's victory.
In 2016, Trump won the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes. The formal vote earned extra attention when some Democratic activists called for electors to "go rogue" against Trump. In the end, seven electors broke ranks, an unusually high number but still far too few to sway the outcome.
Once in the Oval Office, Biden faces the heavy task of fighting the coronavirus pandemic, reviving the US economy and rebuilding relations with US foreign allies that were frayed by Trump's "America First" policies.
At 78, Biden will be the oldest person to become US president.
He is due to make a speech at 8 p.m. ET on Monday (0100 GMT Tuesday) on the Electoral College "and the strength and resilience of our democracy," his transition team said in a statement.
Even if Monday's vote runs smoothly, Trump's efforts - such as encouraging state legislatures to appoint their own sets of "dueling" electors - have exposed the potential flaws in the system, said Robert Alexander, a professor at Ohio Northern University who has written a book about the Electoral College.
"There are a lot of land mines in the Electoral College, and this election really revealed a lot of them," he said.
While the electoral votes normally involve some pomp and circumstance, most events this year will be significantly scaled back due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In Michigan, for instance, the 16 electors are allowed to bring only a single guest; Arizona has shifted its ceremony from the Capitol building to an unassuming government facility and pared down the list of invitees. At least one state, Nevada, intends to hold its electoral vote entirely virtually.
The process of choosing electors varies by state. In some, state parties pick electors at local or state conventions, while in others, the party leadership chooses the slate. In Pennsylvania, the presidential candidates themselves pick their electors, while in California, Democratic congressional nominees select them.