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US electoral college vote: How does it work? When will we know the result? Will there be faithless electors?

Electors representing each US state will meet tomorrow morning, Australian time, to vote for either Joe Biden or Donald Trump to become president. The outcome will affirm the US election result despite continuing allegations of fraud.

On Monday in the United States — Tuesday morning, Australian time — electors representing each US state will submit their vote to nominate either Joe Biden or Donald Trump to become president.

The candidate who receives 270 votes or more from electoral college electors will be affirmed as the winner of the US election.

If you need a refresher on how the electoral college system works, take a moment to watch this video:

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What is the US electoral college?

Now that you're all caught up, here's how the vote will play out:

It starts with electors voting for president and vice-president

The electors won't be travelling to meet in one place at one time.

Instead, electors in each state and the District of Columbia meet in a place chosen by their legislature, usually the state capitol building where the government meets.

The election is low tech. Electors cast their votes by paper ballot: one for the president and one for the vice-president.

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to receive 306 electoral votes, more than the 270 needed to elect a president, and President Donald Trump is expected to receive 232 votes.

In 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, there are laws or party regulations requiring electors to vote the same way the popular vote goes in the state.

But sometimes it doesn't happen like that

Sometimes electors break from their party's pledge. They are called "faithless electors".

It happened in 2016 when seven electors went against tradition to vote against their own state's directives, marking the largest number of faithless electors in more than a century.

So in what is normally a formality, the electoral college vote took extra prominence that year, even though the faithless electors did not ultimately change the result of the election.

Protesters stand at a balcony and on the staircase protesting with signsProtesters stand at a balcony and on the staircase protesting with signs
In 2016, protestors gathered at Pennsylvania's State Capitol as electors cast their votes for Donald Trump.(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

The spotlight on the process is greater this year because Donald Trump has refused to concede the election and has continued to make baseless allegations of fraud.

That makes this meeting of the electoral college a particularly notable step on the path to Inauguration Day on January 21, AEST, when Joe Biden will be sworn in as president.

The electoral college votes will be tallied, certified and sent off

The votes for president and vice-president are counted and the electors sign six "Certificates of the Vote".

Each certificate is paired with a certificate from the governor detailing the state's vote totals, with each pair then sent to various officials.

The most important copy is sent to the current President of the Senate — Vice-President Mike Pence. This is the copy that will be officially counted later.

Two copies go to the secretary of state in the elector's state, two are sent to the Archivist of the United States, and one is sent to the federal judge in the district where the electors have assembled.

All certificates must be delivered by December 24.

Read our full coverage of the US election and its aftermath.Fast forward to January…

At the first meeting of Congress in Washington DC on January 4, the archivist will hand over every certificate received from state governors.

Then, on January 7, in a joint session of Congress where both the House and Senate meet in-person in the House chamber, the votes are read aloud and tallied.

The candidate who receives 270 votes or more is the winner, although with all state election results now certified the victory is almost certainly Joe Biden's.

If at least one member of each house objects in writing to some electoral votes, the House and Senate meet separately to debate the issue.

The New York Times reports a small group of Mr Trump's loyal supporters in Congress are plotting a last-minute challenge to the outcome in a number of states.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives must vote to sustain the objection for it to matter, and the Democratic-led House is unlikely to go along with any objections to votes for Joe Biden.

Without this possible disruption, the votes get counted as intended.

When will we know the result?

Most states will livestream the electoral college vote on their respective government websites across the various US timezones.

In Australia, the votes should start from about 2:00am, AEDT, and run until about noon, which is when president-elect Joe Biden is expected to speak.

The ABC will be running a live blog covering the electoral college vote, from 7:00am AEDT on December 15.

ABC/wires

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