For many Americans, presidential elections essentially end when a candidate is declared the winner. This year, after several days of tense waiting and watching, The Associated Press called the presidential race Saturday morning, declaring that former Vice President Joe Biden will become the 46th president of the United States.
He secured his win with crucial victories in swing states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. His running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, will make history as the first Black woman and the first Asian American woman to be elected vice president.
But the journey from candidate to president-elect, and then president, is not quite complete. There are still a number of important steps yet to play out from November through January.
Throwing a potential wrench in the process has been President Trump’s refusal to concede, although there’s no sign his efforts will derail Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
Here is a timeline of what comes next.
November: The vote counting continues
The race may have been called by The Associated Press and other major news organizations, but the work is far from over for poll workers. Votes will continue to be counted in all states with outstanding ballots. In many states, absentee ballots are still arriving and will be added to official counts.
In Nevada, ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 were accepted up until Tuesday, a week after Election Day. In Utah, ballots in some counties will be accepted up to two weeks after the election, as long as they were postmarked by Nov. 2.
There are also still thousands of ballots to be counted in key states. In Georgia, as of Nov.6, more than 8,000 military and overseas ballots and 14,000 provisional ballots remain uncounted. Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, also announced Wednesday that the state will be conducting a hand recount of the presidential race.
In Pennsylvania the number of outstanding mail-in ballots comes in at more than 43,000, as of Thursday. Ballots that arrived after Election Day in the state are currently separated from regular ballots following an order from Justice Samuel Alito.
While President Trump has claimed that Biden’s win is uncertain given ongoing election litigation, the ballots left to be counted are unlikely to change the outcome of the race.
After states have counted regular ballots and processed provisional ballots, they can begin “canvassing” the election. This essentially means that local and then state election officials aggregate and confirm every valid ballot cast and prepare reports. Canvass deadlines can vary from state to state. Counties in states like Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Virginia must canvass within one week after Election Day.
Late November/early December: The official states’ vote counts are certified
Once the state’s canvass is completed, the results of the election will be certified. This certification is a review of election results, usually conducted by the state’s chief election official or a state board of elections. It is intended to ensure that the final results are correct and in order.
While states have their own deadlines, Americans can expect to see most states certifying their results by late November or early December. This is because of something known as the “safe harbor deadline.”
According to the AP, states want their results certified by the safe harbor deadline because Congress cannot challenge any electors after this date. Legal disputes and recounts are supposed to be resolved by this date as well. The Supreme Court ended a recount in Florida during the 2000 election because the recount could not be completed by the safe harbor deadline.
This year, the safe harbor deadline is Dec. 8.
December: Electors are chosen and votes are sent to Congress
States will likely have already selected and named electors by Dec. 8. As a reminder, the number of electors each state gets is equal to the number of members it has in Congress. The District of Columbia is allocated three electors. There are currently 538 electors in total.
In most states, when a candidate wins the popular vote, they receive all of the state’s electoral votes. Two states, Maine and Nebraska award some electors by congressional districts.
On Dec. 14, the electors will meet in their respective states and officially cast their votes for their candidate. The governor of the state will also certify the election results and the final cohort of electors by this date. The electors’ ballots will then be sent to Congress, arriving by Dec. 23.
Electors can defect from the candidate they pledged to support and become “faithless electors.” However, this does not usually happen and there are severe consequences for such electors. Earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court unanimously upheld laws across the country that punished or removed faithless electors. Additionally, an elector deserting their candidate is not likely to change the outcome of this election. Given Biden’s electoral lead, tens of electors would need to desert to flip the election in Trump’s favor.
Jan. 6, 2021: Congress counts electoral votes and certifies winner
On Jan. 3, 2021, the 117th new Congress will be sworn into office. Three days later, on Jan. 6, 2021, the newly appointed members will count the electoral votes. This is the final step in the path from president-elect to president.
Members of the Senate and the House will gather in a session led by the president of the Senate, in this case Vice President Pence. The ballots from electors will be read out loud — in alphabetical order by state — by tellers previously appointed from the membership of the House and Senate.
After the tellers tally the results, the presiding officer will announce whether any one candidate has reached the requisite 270 electoral votes. According to U.S code, this “announcement shall be deemed a sufficient declaration of the persons, if any, elected President and Vice President of the United States.”
Jan. 20, 2021: President-elect is inaugurated
At noon on Jan. 20, 2021, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris are set to be sworn into office, officially becoming the next president and vice president of the United States.