The nation’s founders created the Electoral College as a compromise between those who favored a direct popular vote and those who wanted lawmakers to pick presidents.
Mr. Biden won the national popular vote by more than seven million ballots, according to the Associated Press. But the number that counts is his electoral vote total, 306, to President Trump’s 232.
Mr. Trump has refused to accept the election outcome and pushed dozens of legal challenges, with losses at all levels including the U.S. Supreme Court. His unwillingness to concede has put a spotlight on the mechanics of choosing the president.
The Constitution doesn’t specify how electors are to be picked, and each state has its own process. Many are elected at state party conventions. In some cases, they are essentially handpicked by party leaders and then confirmed at a special state meeting.
Electors are legally bound in some states to vote for the person who won their state, a requirement the Supreme Court said earlier this year is permissible. In others, so-called faithless electors can break ranks, though that is rare.
The 59th Electoral College that has assembled today will be different because of the pandemic. In some states, limits are being placed on the number of guests electors can bring. Others are moving the meetings to larger spaces to accommodate social distancing.
In Vermont, electors will convene at 10 a.m. (Local Time), while those in Hawaii won’t assemble until nine hours later.
In each state, electors will review the election results and sign six certificates. The certificates contain two lists, one that includes the electoral votes for the president and the other the electoral votes for the vice president.
They will then pair those certificates with paperwork from their state’s governor and send the material through registered mail to a variety of places, according to the Congressional Research Service. Single certificates will be sent to Vice President Mike Pence and to the U.S. district court for the area where the electors met. Two certificates will be sent to both the secretary of state, or an equivalent official, and the archivist of the U.S.
The electoral vote won’t be official until Jan. 6, when Mr. Pence is expected to open correspondence from each state during a joint session of Congress and have the totals read aloud. Once a candidate reaches 270 electoral votes, he or she will be declared the winner.
Some well-known people are electors. Hillary Clinton will be among New York Democrats, as will her husband, former President Bill Clinton. Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia House minority leader who narrowly lost a 2018 bid for governor, is also an elector.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is a Republican elector, along with Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio secretary of state and treasurer. Both are Trump supporters.
Wisconsin, where Mr. Biden defeated Mr. Trump by about 20,000 votes, provides a typical example of elector composition.
In addition to Ms. Arnold, the nine other Democratic electors are the state party secretary, a state representative, a state senator, the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, a member of the Democratic National Committee, the president of a tribal council, the lieutenant governor, the governor and the state party chairman.
Some Democrats have pushed to abolish the Electoral College. A Gallup poll in September showed 61% of American adults said the president should be picked by the popular vote, a number that jumps to 89% among Democrats. Among Republicans, 77% favor keeping the Electoral College unchanged.