EXPLAINER: How Congress will count Electoral College votes

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

The U.S. Capitol as seen on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON – The congressional joint session to count electoral votes is generally a routine, ceremonious affair. But President Donald Trump’s repeated, baseless efforts to challenge Democrat Joe Biden’s victory will bring more attention than usual to next Wednesday's joint session of the Senate and the House.

The congressional count is the final step in reaffirming Biden’s win, after the Electoral College officially elected him on Dec 14. The meeting is required by the Constitution and includes several distinct steps.

Republicans who are echoing Trump's baseless claims of fraud have said they will officially object to the results, forcing votes in the Republican-run Senate and the Democratic-controlled House that will almost certainly fail. A group of House Republicans had been looking for a senator to sign on because there must be support from at least one member of each chamber to force the votes. That support came Wednesday from Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, a possible contender in the 2024 GOP presidential primary.

Hawley's challenge comes despite a plea from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that Republican senators not join the futile House effort. McConnell told his caucus on a private call earlier this month that it would be a “terrible vote” for Senate Republicans to have to take.

A look at the joint session:


Under federal law, Congress must meet Jan. 6 to open sealed certificates from each state that contain a record of their electoral votes. The votes are brought into the chamber in mahogany boxes.

Bipartisan representatives of both chambers read the results out loud and do an official count. The president of the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence, presides over the session and declares the winner.