The Vice President, being the President of the Senate, presides over the counting of the Electoral College votes during a joint session of Congress. Following the count, the VP then officially declares the winner of the presidential election.

The media has occasionally described incumbent VP Mike Pence's role as an "awkward" one.

The role of the vice president as presiding officer is often an awkward one, as it will be for Pence, who will be charged with announcing Biden’s victory — and his own defeat — once the electoral votes are counted. It will be especially tense for the former Indiana congressman as his boss, Trump, has refused to concede.

So, does the Constitution mandate that the Vice President must be the presiding officer during the Electoral College count? If not, who else can take up the role?

  • 5
    Nixon also had to do this when he was VP and lost to Kennedy. Dec 18, 2020 at 5:57
  • 30
    Mondale and Quayle presided over their bosses’ losses, and Gore presided over his own loss, including having to reject a parade of Representatives rising to protest Florida to his benefit.
    – Damila
    Dec 18, 2020 at 7:05

2 Answers 2


The President Pro Tempore of the Senate can do it.

In 1969, Vice President Hubert Humphrey did not participate in the count of the electoral college votes. The President Pro Tempore of the Senate took his place instead.

Source: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/12/17/pence-trump-election-loss-447326

  • 2
    Nice find,......
    – James K
    Dec 18, 2020 at 9:37
  • 1
    Looks like the last time it happened it was to attend a funeral (which, fair enough). Does leave the next question unanswered, though: Who would be the PPT of the Senate in this situation, and if it's Mitch McConnell, what happens when he refuses to do his job as well? Dec 18, 2020 at 13:48
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    @Shadur It's actually Sen. Grassley, not McConnell, who is the Majority Leader, not the same thing. As to what would happen if Grassley refused, I imagine that's a larger debate. Dec 18, 2020 at 13:52
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    @cairdcoinheringaahing Grassley is PPT for one singular reason: he's the oldest senator (of the majority). That's the Senate's default for assigning the position: oldest member from the majority. The position is largely irrelevant most of the time, so it gets assigned in such an arbitrary fashion. But the Senate is free to put whoever they want into the position, and can simply vote in a new choice at any time, even changing it from session to session; and they do so every so often for various purposes. Dec 19, 2020 at 8:40
  • 2
    @zibadawatimmy oldest or longest serving?
    – phoog
    Dec 19, 2020 at 21:01

Well, the Constitution says (Article II, Section 1)

The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted.

while Article I, Section 3 defines the President of the Senate as the Vice President

The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate

So it is clearly intended that the Vice President presides. It's reasonably common for the sitting Vice President to preside over an Electoral College vote count that sees him defeated. While it is probably awkward to do so, it would almost certainly be more awkward for the Vice President to avoid the session.

That said, Article I, Section 3 also specifies that the Senate will choose a President pro tempore that acts in the absence of the VP

The Senate shall chuse their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the Absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States.

I would assume that if the Vice President claimed that he was going to be unavoidably absent that the President pro tempore (currently Sen. Grassley (R-IA)) would preside. I'm not sure that any Vice President has ever been absent for the opening of the Electoral College ballots to test this.


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