The drafters of the Electoral Count Act consciously insisted on this weakened role for the vice president. They guarded against any pretense he might have to throw out a particular state’s votes, saying that the vice president must open “all certificates and papers purporting to be” electoral votes. They further said, in the event of a dispute, both chambers of Congress would have to disagree with a particular state’s slate of electoral votes to reject them. And they made it difficult for Congress to disagree, adding measures such as a “safe harbor” provision and deference to certification by state officials.
In this election, certification is clear. There are no ongoing legal challenges in the states of any merit whatsoever. All challenges have lost, spectacularly and often, in the courts. The states and the electors have spoken their will. Neither Vice President Pence nor the loyal followers of President Trump have a valid basis to contest anything.
To be sure, this structure creates awkwardness, as it forces the vice president to announce the result even when personally unfavorable.
After the close election of 1960, Richard Nixon, as vice president, counted the votes for his opponent, John Kennedy. Al Gore, in perhaps one of the more dramatic moments of our Republic’s short history, counted the votes and reported them in favor of George W. Bush.
Watching Mr. Gore count the votes, shut off all challenges and deliver the presidency to Mr. Bush was a powerful moment in our democracy. By the time he counted the votes, America and the world knew where he stood. And we were all lifted up when Mr. Gore, at the end, asked God to bless the new president and vice president and joined the chamber in applause.
Republican leaders — including Senators McConnell, Roy Blunt and John Thune — have recognized the outcome of the election, despite the president’s wrath. Mr. McConnell put it in clear terms: “The Electoral College has spoken. So today, I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden.”
Notably, Mr. Pence has been silent. He has not even acknowledged the historic win by Kamala Harris, the nation’s first female, first African-American and first Asian-American vice president.