Electoral College: What is Safe Harbor; when is it?

The 2020 presidential election process reaches an important deadline Tuesday, one that if met, guarantees a state’s choice of Electoral College representatives.

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Tuesday is the “Safe Harbor” deadline, which bars Congress from challenging any electors named by a state, as long as that state has chosen the electors in accordance with state law.

Those state laws must have been in place before the election

What is Safe Harbor?

Federal law (3 U.S.C. §5) allows states 35 days to resolve any disputes and certify their voting results to send the electors to the Electoral College to vote. If they do not do that by the end of the 35-day period (Dec. 8 for the 2020 presidential election), results could be deemed inconclusive and that could result in electors not being counted.

The statute reads:

  • If election results are contested in any state, and
  • if the state has enacted procedures to settle controversies over electors and electoral votes, and
  • if these procedures have been applied, and
  • if the results have been determined six days before the electors’ meetings, then these results are considered to be conclusive and will apply in the counting of the electoral votes.

What happens next?

On Dec. 14, electors meet in their states to vote for president and vice president.

Again, federal law sets a deadline for electors to meet in their states and vote for president and vice president.

The Monday after the second Wednesday in December – Dec. 14 this year – is the date the electors will meet.

They meet at the places selected by their state’s legislature. Voting on paper ballots, they cast one vote for president and a separate vote for vice president.

The votes are counted and then the electors sign six certificates that include a list of the electoral votes for president, and a separate list of electoral votes for the vice president. These are the Certificates of the Vote.