LIVE: Electoral College ratification vote

At 1 p.m. Congress will meet in joint session to begin the process of counting the electoral votes for president.

Here's an explainer about what will happen in Washington.

By Zachary B. Wolf, CNN

(CNN) -- Wednesday is the culmination of the Electoral College process, when states' votes determined by the results of the November 3 general election are formally counted during a joint session of Congress. We know the results -- Biden won 306 electoral votes, beating Trump's 232 -- but the congressional session seals Joe Biden's victory, ahead of his inauguration on January 20.

If you're interested in further reading, here's a Congressional Research Service report on how the count should proceed. And here's the text of the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which created the current system.

What exactly is happening during Wednesday's ceremony?

What we'll see Wednesday is Vice President Mike Pence, who is technically president of the US Senate, convening the two chambers at 1 p.m. ET to officially count the Electoral College votes, which are traditionally presented in large and ornate leather-lined mahogany boxes.

Four lawmakers designated as "tellers" -- two from the House and two from the Senate -- will read off the certificates of vote from each state. They'll do it alphabetically starting with Alabama.

The process usually takes about an hour, but this year it could go many hours because some Republicans plan to object to certain states -- a step that will force up to two hours of debate for each state. All of those objections will be voted on, and are expected to fail.

At the end, Pence will read off the vote totals that qualify Biden to take the oath of office on January 20.

Tellers? Certificates of vote? What language is this?

This is the legalese of the 19th century. This official, scripted show was laid out in the Electoral Count Act of 1887, a law passed after the contested election of 1876.

Tellers are appointed by the House and Senate to read the certificates of ascertainment. This year they are Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Reps. Zoe Lofgren of California and Rodney Davis of Illinois, the chair and ranking members of the House and Senate rules committees.

Certificates of vote are the official tallies of each state's electoral vote. Copies are sent to Washington for counting, but copies also kept in each state and by courts for backup.

What opportunities do Republicans have to challenge the results?

Objections are why this year's ceremonial counting could take so long. Lawmakers can object if they feel a state's electors were not properly or legally chosen. What's different this year is they will force debate on those objections.

Lawmakers have every right to object to a state's electoral votes and they often do. 

This year, for first time since California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer objected to President George W. Bush's Ohio win in 2005, senators have said they will join in House objections, forcing debate. (The only other time that's happened since 1887 was in 1969, when one elector bucked the popular results to cast a vote for George Wallace.)

At each objection put in writing and signed by both a congressman and senator, the joint session is paused and the House and Senate adjourn to separately consider it. Both the House and Senate then vote on whether to sustain the objection.

What happens when there is an objection?

An objection has to be raised in writing and endorsed by a congressman and senator. Then the two chambers -- House and Senate -- adjourn to consider the objection.

These sessions, which could have the feel of a sort of trial as lawmakers make their cases, can only last for a maximum of two hours. Each lawmaker can be recognized for up to five minutes of talking, although they can yield to their time to other lawmakers. Then, both chambers separately vote.

All this happens simultaneously, so be ready to flip between streams of the House and Senate.

Is it possible that these objections jeopardize the outcome?

No. Democrats have a majority in the House, so no objection will pass that chamber. A number of Republicans in the Senate have already said they will vote against the objections, which makes it impossible for an objection to pass there, either.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

Share this article: