Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden is knocking on the door of the White House, sitting just shy of the 270 electoral votes needed to win — but what happens if President Trump loses and refuses to concede?
When Inauguration Day rolls around on Jan. 20, if Trump has exhausted his legal challenges and physically refuses to leave the White House premises, Biden said in June that he was “absolutely convinced” the military would remove Trump “with great dispatch.”
But Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told NPR last month that he intends to keep the military out of any election disputes.
“This isn’t the first time that someone has suggested that there might be a contested election,” he told the outlet. “And if there is, it’ll be handled appropriately by the courts and by the US Congress. There’s no role for the US military in determining the outcome of a US election. Zero. There is no role there.”
Given America’s history of peaceful transitions of power, such an event would steer the country into uncharted waters.
It also assumes that the electoral votes will be untangled.
With the final vote in dispute, states with Democratic governors but Republican legislatures — including the key battleground states of Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan and Wisconsin, the latter two of which have already been called for Biden — could conceivably end up dispatching two distinct groups of Electoral College voters, reported Marie Claire, citing a study by election scholar Edward B. Foley.
In that scenario, those states would have two competing sets of electoral votes, and, as president of the Senate, Republican Vice President Mike Pence would be tasked with unraveling the situation.
He could opt to throw out both sets of votes from those states, meaning neither candidate could reach the 270 electoral votes needed to clinch the presidency.
In that event, the members of Congress would vote for president and vice president.
The House of Representatives would vote for president, with each state’s delegation getting one shared vote, and a simple majority of 26 votes needed to elect.
In the Senate, each senator gets one vote, with a simple majority of 51 votes needed to elect.
Should either of those bodies fail to reach a majority, the plot thickens further.
If the Senate elects a vice president but the House of Representatives fails to elect a president, the vice president-elect serves as president until the impasse is resolved.
If neither body can reach a conclusion by Inauguration Day, then the presidential line of succession kicks in, and the speaker of the House of Representatives — currently Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — would serve as president until the knot is untied.