Hillary Clinton’s victory in the popular — but not the electoral — vote and uncertainty about Donald Trump have generated unusual interest in an event that is usually a political footnote.
Under the Constitution and federal law, the real presidential election takes place this year on Dec. 19, when presidential electors meet in the 50 state capitols and Washington, DC.
The electors are hardly household names. As Arizonans went to the polls Nov. 8, 49 percent of them may have thought they were voting for Donald Trump and Mike Pence, but they actually elected Bruce Ash, Walter Begay, and 10 other people.
The votes cast by Ash and 537 others chosen as presidential electors will be counted Jan. 6, 2017, during a joint session of Congress, and only then will the winner be officially declared. It takes 270 votes to win because the 12th Amendment requires a candidate to get a majority.
As the president of the Senate, Vice President Joe Biden will preside over the joint session and announce the results.
It sometimes happens that a vice president ends up announcing his own defeat. It happened to Richard Nixon in 1960, reading the votes for John F. Kennedy, and most recently to Al Gore in 2000, declaring the votes for George W. Bush.
This year, members of a group calling itself The Electors Trust, including Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, say they’ve been contacted by dozens of electors seeking legal advice.
Many are asking, must they vote as their states did?