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The Latest on the Georgia Runoff and Explaining Congress and the Electoral College

  • 2021 Jan 06

Democrat Raphael Warnock has defeated Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler in their Georgia runoff. The race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and former Sen. David Perdue is still too close to call.

More than three million people (40 percent of the state’s registered voters) cast a ballot in the runoff before yesterday. Between eight hundred thousand and over a million people were expected to vote on Election Day. Absentee ballots postmarked by Tuesday and received by Friday will be counted. If the final margins in either contest are within 0.5 percent of the vote, the losing candidate has the right under Georgia law to ask for a recount.

While we wait for results that will determine the leadership of the US Senate, Congress is meeting later today to discuss the Electoral College votes, the last step in certifying the next president of the United States.

Given the unprecedented complexities of these events in American political life, I need to write a two-part Daily Article. Today, we’ll survey what will take place in our nation’s capital and then close with a biblical reflection. Tomorrow, after we (presumably) have the results of today’s events, we’ll discuss what they mean for our country and our future.

Objections and an audit

Under federal law, Electoral College votes are counted in a joint session of Congress presided over by the president of the Senate—in this case, Vice President Mike Pence. The process begins this afternoon at 1 p.m. EST.

The vice president opens the states’ sealed certificates in alphabetical order, then hands them to one of four “tellers”—a Republican and a Democrat from each chamber of Congress. They review the certificates and announce the states’ votes. The process continues uninterrupted until all the votes are announced and tabulated.

Unless there is a recognized objection.

An objection to a state’s vote requires a written document signed by at least one member of the House of Representatives and one member of the Senate. Such an objection to a state’s entire slate of electors has been raised only once since the Electoral Count Act was enacted in 1887.

This is expected later today, however, as a dozen Republican House members have said they plan to object to votes from swing states won by Joe Biden. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) announced last week that he plans to join at least some of these challenges.

On Saturday, eleven more GOP senators also stated that they would vote to sustain objections in six swing states—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—unless there is a ten-day audit to review votes that have already been certified.

How Congress could change the election

If there is a recognized objection to a state’s vote, the vote counting is halted. Both chambers then engage in up to two hours of debate. Twelve members per side have a maximum of five minutes each. This is the time when evidence is presented before Congress (and the American public) regarding the integrity of that state’s presidential election.

Each chamber then votes on whether to sustain the objection and dismiss the state’s votes. Majorities of both houses would have to vote to sustain this objection; if one chamber votes to reject the state’s votes but the other does not, the objection is dismissed.

According to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the entire process could take up to four hours per state, factoring in the time it would take for both chambers to finish voting and then return to the floor. After the objection is voted on, the joint congressional session reconvenes and the count continues. If there’s another formal objection to another state’s vote, the process is repeated.

In 2005, an objection to Ohio’s electors by Democrats delayed the count by almost three hours. If the same occurs in all six states targeted this time, the vote count could easily go into tomorrow.

If successful challenges cost Joe Biden 37 electoral votes, his total would be reduced from 306 to 269. In this case, the House would select the next president. Under the Twelfth Amendment to the US Constitution, each state congressional delegation gets one vote. Each state decides how it will cast this vote. Since Republicans have a majority of representatives in twenty-six states, it is plausible that they would carry the election for President Trump.

However, Democrats have majority control of the House and are expected to be unified against any objection to a state’s vote. This would defeat a formal objection, but the Senate is not likely to vote in favor of an objection, either, as several GOP senators have opposed throwing out a state’s votes.

"Give grace to those who hear"

Tomorrow we will explore the larger significance of these monumental events. For today, let’s focus on this biblical fact: the way we discuss the divisive politics of our day relates directly to our ability to influence our culture for Christ.

Scripture calls us to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1). We are to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders” (Colossians 4:5) and to “let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (v. 6).

Long after the political events of this week are over, every person you know will still need the eternal life only Jesus can offer. Our political engagement, even when motivated by a desire for truth and integrity in our political system, can be so divisive and caustic that nonbelievers will judge Christ by Christians and reject both.

This is why it is imperative to “let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

Will you “give grace to those who hear” you today?

Publication date: January 6, 2020

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Geoff Livingston

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