WASHINGTON D.C. — Sunday kicks off a series of events in our nation's capital and elsewhere across the country that might culminate in yet another challenge to the results of the November election. Several republican congressman and senators have publicly stated that they intend to challenge the electoral college vote on Wednesday, invoking a provision born out of the contested election of 1876.
On Sunday, new members of the 117th United States Congress will be sworn in before rules for the House and Senate are formally adopted the following day. Then, on Tuesday, the significant Georgia runoffs for two U.S. Senate seats will begin. On Wednesday, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is expected to object when a joint session of Congress is to certify the electoral college results.
Under federal law, a senator must be joined by a representative in a challenge. The law traces back to the Compromise of 1877 that ultimately led to President Rutherford B. Hayes, who also served as Ohio's governor prior to the presidential election, taking the White House and Reconstruction ending in the south following the Civil War.
"If one member of the house and one member of the Senate object to either any of the electors themselves or a slate of electors from a state, that objection has to be acted on by each chamber," said Tom Sutton, a political science professor at Baldwin Wallace University. "That's really the controversy that we're all facing going into Wednesday's count."
Assuming the challenges are filed, both the House and Senate will convene in separate sessions after which each chamber will deliberate for no more than 2 hours. After deliberating, each chamber will vote on the challenges.
"If a vote on the objection is upheld by the majorities in both chambers, that elector or slate of electors for whom the objection was filed is eliminated from each count," Sutton said. "A democratically controlled house and republican controlled senate would have to vote in favor of that."
That's where many political science experts, including Sutton, believe the last-ditch effort will fall apart. Since the general election, the Trump Campaign's legal challenges in various courts across the country have largely been found to be without merit. Although President Trump has often asserted widespread voter fraud, the claims have lacked concrete evidence.
For the results of the electoral college vote swinging to President Trump's favor, it would require the disqualification of dozens of electors, which is highly unlikely. Such challenges have occurred in the past, however.
"Interestingly, the last time we had an objection filed by a member of the house and senate, it was actually to the Ohio slate of electors in 2005 following the 2004 election," Sutton said. "There were democrats on each side that filed the objection and it was voted on and it went nowhere. We were the state about 15 years ago where this last happened."
Sutton believes the potential challenges to the electoral college vote on Wednesday can be seen as laying the groundwork for upcoming senate races in 2022 and the presidential race in 2024.
"If nothing else it forces us to look at these minutest of details that are involved in a process that we otherwise never paid attention to," Sutton said. "How many of us -- including political scientists and all of us that do this for a living -- how many of us paid attention when they met in that joint session and had the count of the electoral college vote?"