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According to this website article (bold emphasis added)...

In 2017, the new federal Congress convenes on January 6 for the official Electoral College vote count. The Vice President will open the vote certificates and pass them to four members of Congress, who count the votes. If there is a majority winner with at least 270 electoral votes and there are no objections filed by members of Congress, the Presidential election is certified and over. If there isn’t a majority winner, the election is sent to Congress to decide. The House decides who is President; the Senate decides who is Vice President.

What kind of objections can be filed? Where is this defined? What happens next if such an objection is filed?

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This is at least a partial answer that I discovered. The following is an excerpt from a memorandum prepared by the Congressional Research Service:

Objecting to the Counting of One or More Electoral Votes. 3 U.S.C. §15 includes a procedure for making and acting on objections to the counting of one or more of the electoral votes from a state or the District of Columbia. When the certificate or equivalent paper from each state (or the District of Columbia) is read, "the President of the Senate shall call for objections, if any." Any such objection must be presented in writing and must be signed by at least one Senator and one Representative. The objection "shall state clearly and concisely, and without argument, the ground thereof...." When an objection is received, each house is to meet and consider it separately. The statute states that "[n]o votes or papers from any other State shall be acted upon until the objections previously made to the votes or papers from any State shall have been finally disposed of." However, in 1873, before enactment of the law now in force, the joint session agreed, without objection and for reasons of convenience, to entertain objections with regard to two or more states before the two houses met separately to consider any of them.

Disposing of Objections. The joint session does not act on any objections that are made. Instead, the joint session is suspended while each house meets separately to debate the objection and vote whether, based on the objection, to count the vote or votes in question. Both houses must vote separately to agree to the objection. (This is the form in which the question was put in 1969; Deschler's Precedents, v. 3, Ch. 10, §3.6.) Otherwise, the objection falls and the vote or votes are counted. (3 U.S.C. §15, provides that "the two Houses concurrently may reject the vote or votes ....) These procedures have been invoked once since enactment of the 1887 law. In 1969, a Representative and a Senator objected in writing to counting the vote of an elector from North Carolina who had cast his vote for George Wallace and Curtis LeMay. Both houses, meeting and voting separately, rejected the objection, so when the joint session resumed, the challenged electoral vote was counted as cast. (This episode is discussed in Deschler's Precedents, v. 3, Ch. 10, §3.6.) In that instance the elector whose vote was challenged was from a state that did not by law "bind" its electors to vote only for the candidates to whom they are pledged. The instance of an elector voting for a different candidate (the socalled "faithless elector"), from a state which does, in fact, bind by law the elector to vote for the candidate to whom listed or pledged (see Ray v. Blair, 343 U.S. 214 (1952) in which the Court upheld the permissibility of such state limitations but did not address their enforceability), has not as yet been expressly addressed by the Congress or the courts.

Procedures for Considering Objections. 3 U.S.C. §17 lays out procedures for each house to follow in debating and voting on an objection. (As these procedures affect either house, however, they presumably are rule-making provisions of law which that house can decide unilaterally to alter.) These procedures limit debate on the objection to not more than two hours, during which each member may speak only once and for not more than five minutes. Then "it shall be the duty of the presiding officer of each House to put the main question without further debate." Under this provision, the presiding officer in each house held in 1969 that a motion to table the objection was not in order (Deschler's Precedents, v. 3, Ch. 10, §3.7). On the other hand, the Senate agreed, by unanimous consent, during the same proceeding to a different way in which the time for debate was to be controlled and allocated (Deschler's Precedents , v. 3, Ch. 10, §3.8).

Basis for Objections. The general grounds for an objection to the counting of an electoral vote or votes would appear from the federal statute and from historical sources to be that such vote was not "regularly given" by an elector, and/or that the elector was not "lawfully certified" according to state statutory procedures. The statutory provision first states in the negative that "no electoral vote ... regularly given by electors whose appointment has been lawfully certified ... from which but one return has been received shall be rejected" (3 U.S.C. § 15), and then reiterates for clarity (see Conference Report on 1887 legislation, 18 Congressional Record 668, 49th Cong., 2d Sess., January 14, 1887) that both houses concurrently may reject a vote when not "so regularly given" by electors "so certified." 3 U.S.C. § 15. It should be noted that the word "lawfully" was expressly inserted by the House in the Senate legislation (S. 9, 49th Cong.) before the word "certified" ( Conference Report, supra, 18 Congressional Record at 668). Such addition arguably provides an indication that Congress thought it might, as a grounds for an objection, question and look into the lawfulness of the certification under state law. While the first objection of "regularly given" may, in practice, subsume the latter (as a vote may arguably be other than "regularly given" if it were given by one who was not "lawfully certified"), the two objections are not necessarily the same. In the case of the socalled "faithless elector" in 1969, described above, the elector was apparently "lawfully certified" by the state, but the objection raised was that the vote was not "regularly given" by such elector.

I also discovered from another website that the objection procedure has been initiated a few times in our history but was successful only once, in 1872 which resulted in the electoral votes of Louisiana and Arkansas being disqualified.

  • An interesting question is, are any random objections constitutional? If say someone objects to counting electors from states won by a specific candidate (and weirdly, other Congresscritters go along), would the candidate whose votes were discarded have grounds to take a lawsuit to SCOTUS? – user4012 Nov 19 '16 at 19:07
  • SCOTUS and the other courts are extremely reluctant to get into matters of one political faction vs another in matters of political procedure. If a majority of congress went along then it seems unlikely there would be substance for a case against just one person. Also it looks like it takes at least two people to raise an objection like this: one Senator and one Representative. – O.M.Y. Nov 19 '16 at 22:32

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