What Is The Electoral College Safe Harbor Deadline? Dec. 8 is known as the "safe harbor" deadline for states to certify their results. Past the deadline, Congress has significantly less latitude to intervene in the election results.

Biden's Victory Cemented As States Reach Key Electoral College Deadline

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's be clear here - there are people who defend the Electoral College. There are others who say it's a complicated mess. Why elect presidents not based on popular vote? Why does it take weeks to make the outcome official and then more official and then even more official? Well, today is another milestone in Joe Biden's long road to become the 46th president of the United States, and we have NPR's Miles Parks with us. Hi, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So you cover voting, so you are the person to tell us where we are in the Electoral College process (laughter).

PARKS: I guess you might say that. Though, to be fair, I mean, it's long - it's a complicated thing for me to think about as well. So, I mean, as a refresher, on November 3, voters did not actually cast their ballots for presidential candidates, for Joe Biden or Donald Trump.

GREENE: OK.

PARKS: They voted for Electoral College electors who then meet and cast their votes for presidential candidates. Now, those meetings are scheduled to happen next week in states across the country on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, which this year is December 14.

GREENE: (Laughter) Wow, OK. But something is happening today, right?

PARKS: Yes. Today is what's known as the safe harbor deadline. Another really quick history lesson. After the contested election of 1876, Congress realized it had no mechanism for solving election disputes, cases where Congress received multiple sets of results from the same state about who won the presidency there. So they enacted this piece of legislation called the Electoral Count Act, a law that is notoriously poorly written and confusing, but which does set up a clearer timeline for when states need to have their results finalized. Basically, the law says that as long as the state has certified its results before the safe harbor deadline - which is today, six days before electors meet - then Congress needs to treat those results as conclusive.

GREENE: Well, and have states actually done what they were supposed to do?

PARKS: They have. Even though the Trump campaign and a number of other Republican groups have filed dozens of lawsuits that have tried to slow down the process or stop it completely, those have failed. And we should note - there's also been no evidence presented yet of the widespread cheating that President Trump has been constantly complaining about over the last month. Most states have certified, and every state will have certified by the deadline. And what that means is President Trump's allies in Congress now have a lot less latitude to contest those results when they receive them in January.

GREENE: So does this mean it really is the end of the line now for the Trump campaign?

PARKS: It's getting there. I mean, experts say to expect some drama on January 6, when votes are counted in Congress. But the underlying outcome is certain. Here's Rebecca Green, an election law expert at William and Mary that I talked to. I asked her about Trump's continued effort to stop this process.

REBECCA GREEN: You know, we saw an instance of the courts that the answer was no, barring credible evidence. And I have no reason to believe that the institution of Congress will not follow that similar path.

PARKS: The big open question now is when President Trump himself will accept this reality. There's been no indication yet that he's going to concede or anything close to that.

GREENE: No indication at all. All right, NPR's Miles Parks - journalist and, this morning, also historian for us. Miles, thanks so much for all this. We really appreciate it.

PARKS: Thanks, David.

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