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Follow the latest news and information about voting and the 2020 election, including essential information about how to vote during a pandemic and more.

It's Not Over Yet: How The Electoral College Timeline Moves Forward

2020 Presidential Ballot
Chris Miller

North Carolina election officials will wrap up their canvassing of votes Friday ahead of the state certifying the election later this month. The results will inform the electoral process, which could be simple … or complicated.

Here to walk us through the electoral process is WFAE’s Alexandra Watts.

Gwendolyn Glenn: Alexandra, the electoral college is made up of 538 people called electors. North Carolina has 15 electors, and therefore 15 electoral votes. Can you explain how that number is determined?

Alexandra Watts: Sure. So, the number of electors a state has depends on the number of senators and representatives a state has. Every state has 2 senators, and North Carolina has 13 representatives in the House, so we get 15 electors.

Glenn: How are the electors chosen? Does each party choose their own?

Watts: They do. The Democratic and Republican parties each choose 15 people to be electors if their candidate wins the state. To be an elector, you cannot hold public office or be an elected official. You just have to make your case at your party’s convention.

Once the state certifies the election and the results, then those electors from either party will be activated. The other 15 from the losing party, nothing happens with them. They can just go home — or stay home — because none of the electors are doing anything right now.

Glenn: North Carolina certifies our election results on Nov. 24. What happens after that?

Watts: North Carolina and the rest of the states must have their elections certified by Dec. 8. This is known as the "Safe Harbor" deadline, and all election results must be certified and all state lawsuits have to be settled by then.

Here’s Mary Jo McGowan from the University of North Carolina Charlotte:

Mary Jo McGowan: If the state can't pick electors by Dec. 8, that's the Safe Harbor date, then the state legislature is going to step in and say, "Well, we're going to pick them for you." They're going to choose electors for the Electoral College, because we don't want North Carolina to not have a say in the presidential election.

Glenn: From the "Safe Harbor" day on Dec. 8 there’s yet another deadline on Dec. 14. And this is actually when the electors cast their votes. What happens on this day?

Watts: Once it is determined who wins the state, the electors finally get to take the stage. Here’s UNC Charlotte’s Mary Jo McGowan again.

McGowan: So, if Trump wins North Carolina, the Republican team, those electors get to go vote in Raleigh on Dec. 14. ... And you actually vote and sign the documents that say "I'm voting for Trump for president of the United States."

Glenn: So, after the electors cast their vote in Raleigh, they submit their vote to the North Carolina Secretary of State. But the process is still not over. Can you talk about what happens next on Dec. 23?

Watts: This is where Vice President Mike Pence steps in. As president of the Senate, he receives all of the electoral votes from every state and then on Jan. 6, Congress will count them. This is where things could get messy because if at least one member of the House and one member of the Senate file an objection — those objections have to be considered. And they could ultimately end up having to be voted on by both chambers of Congress to decide whether contested electoral votes should be ruled out.

But when they all approve the votes, then the president and the vice president can be sworn in on inauguration day which is Jan. 20.

Glenn: And then, we’re done … until the next election. Alexandra, thank you for being here and for taking us through the electoral college timeline.

Watts: Thanks for having me.

Glenn: Alexandra Watts is a reporter for both WFAE and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. She is also a Report for America corps member.

Alexandra Watts joined WFAE as a Report for America corps member in 2020 in the unique partnership with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library using radio and Wikipedia to fill news deserts.