Our long road to a new presidency, which has felt like it’s taken a million years between 3rd November 2020 and now, will soon come to an end on 20th January when Joe Biden is officially inaugurated. First, however, a vote must take place in Congress tomorrow. On Wednesday, 6th January, Congress will count electoral votes, and presiding over the ceremony is none other than Vice President Mike Pence.
Leading up to Congress’s meeting, Senator Ted Cruz and nearly a dozen other Republican senators or senators-elect have issued a challenge and have sought to delay if not completely reverse the election result. After numerous lawsuits, investigations into voter fraud, and recounts, Biden is still (and again and again) the 46th President of the United States. But Pence, who serves as President of the Senate and can break any deadlocked votes, is now making people nervous. These nerves have, of course, ignited a conversation about if Pence can actually take away the win from Biden.
The simple answer to this is no: The VP’s role in this specific tradition is mostly ceremonial and he wields little to no power to actually overturn anything — though Pence would love for people to think he wields that much power.
Those who drafted the Constitution were very aware of the risk that bias could play in politics, and didn’t want any vice president to ever have so much control to settle the final outcome of a presidential election. For that reason, they put safeguards in place. Thanks to the 12th Amendment, Pence can’t actually make the final decision about who becomes president. This is also thanks to the Electoral Count Act of 1887. While he might be the “presiding officer," he doesn’t get to choose and the electoral votes still have the final say.
Once Pence opens the certificates, tellers make a list, and the votes are counted. Then, the result of the election is delivered to the President of the Senate, who announces the vote and declares who has been elected President and Vice President of the United States.
Following this, Pence will have to ask if there are any objections (kind of like at a wedding but much more terrifying in this case). Anyone who objects to the result has to put it in writing and state a good reason why the result is wrong, and has to submit it to the Senate. Although Cruz and others can make their objections, the process is relatively sound. Even Pence has to be checked and balanced.
It has been a long two months of the Trump administration and many Republicans calling the election fraudulent, claiming that Donald Trump is actually the winner and should remain president, and federal judges affirming these falsities and rejecting the law. Given all of these efforts to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory and attempts to stage a coup, it makes sense that many people are worried that Pence will reject electoral votes tomorrow in favour of pushing the narrative that Trump won instead.
Still, it’s very likely that Pence will defer to the Constitution — which he’s so revered under different circumstances — and do the right thing. Perhaps we’ll even get another fly-on-the-head moment, giving us more memes for this auspicious moment in history.