While President-elect Joe Biden has crossed the threshold of 270 electoral votes to win the election, the states’ official tabulation process will go for several more weeks and present some hurdles on the road to Inauguration Day on January 20th. President Trump and allied groups have filed a barrage of lawsuits seeking to halt vote counts in Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania (Source). The president’s campaign will also seek a recount in Wisconsin, though the feasibility of a recount—in any state—will depend on state rules. In Wisconsin, candidates can request a recount after every county has finished certifying results if the margin is within one percentage point (Source). Georgia officials began a statewide hand recount of every ballot on November 13th, a time-consuming and laborious process they announced they planned to finish on November 18th (Source).

Through all this uncertainty, the electoral process will continue, and the timeline for states to certify their election results is quickly approaching. Below is a timeline illustrating the next steps in the process that culminates on Inauguration Day.

November 4 – December 14: Votes are counted and states certify election results

The next major rotation in the process is states certifying their election results. Once that official certification is final, it is very difficult for any candidate to successfully contest the election. According to the National Association of State Election Directors (Source), state certification deadlines range from two days to over a month after Election Day. The secretaries of state from key battleground states have until the following to certify statewide votes:

  • Georgia: November 20
  • Pennsylvania: November 23
  • Michigan: November 23
  • North Carolina: November 24
  • Arizona: November 30
  • Wisconsin: December 1

December 8: The “safe harbor” deadline

States must certify election outcomes at least six days before the Electoral College meets if they want to avoid Congress or their state legislatures getting involved in resolving potential disputes. Any court challenges to state election results must be settled by this date to avoid further controversy and legal maneuvering (Source).

December 14: The Electoral College casts its votes

Federal law dictates that the Monday after the second Wednesday in December—December 14 this year—is the date when electors will meet in their state capitals and vote. In every state except Nebraska and Maine, electors vote on a “winner takes all” basis, meaning that whichever candidate is certified, the winner of the state’s presidential race receives all of the state’s electoral votes. Nebraska and Maine award a delegate to the winner of each of their congressional districts.

January 6:  Congress counts electoral votes and declares election results

At 1:00 pm, a joint session of Congress will count the electoral votes received from each state and declare an official winner of the presidential election. Vice President Michael Pence presides over the process as president of the Senate and announces the results. The candidate that receives at least 270 out of 538 electoral votes becomes the next president.

January 20: Inauguration Day

The president-elect and vice president-elect are sworn into office and officially become the president and vice president of the United States on Inauguration Day.