Happy safe harbor day, everyone! What’s that? Never heard of it? Most people haven’t, although it occurs in every election year and is an important milestone in the process of electing a president. So just what is safe harbor day, also known as the safe harbor deadline?
As NBC News explains, it’s the date set in law by the 1887 Electoral Count Act that declares that Congress must count the electoral votes of states that have chosen their electors. It’s also the day states need to resolve any legal disputes regarding those electors. The safe harbor deadline isn’t on a particular date, rather, the law says it falls on six days before the states’ electors meet to vote in their state capitals. This year, states’ electors meet to vote on December 14, which means the safe harbor deadline is today, Tuesday, December 8.
Normally, the safe harbor deadline isn’t a newsworthy event. The reason the day is making news this year is because President Trump has issued a slew of legal challenges in multiple states alleging that President-elect Joe Biden did not actually win those states. But since the safe harbor deadline means Congress is required to accept the post-election certification of a state’s electoral votes if they have certified those votes by the safe harbor deadline, after today any further legal challenges by Trump contesting the election will be moot in all but one state.
In other words, once the safe harbor deadline passes this year, Trump has no more recourse to challenge election results since most states have already certified electoral votes and those certified votes must be counted no matter what. The only holdout is Wisconsin, which will miss its safe harbor deadline certification by a few days due to a lingering legal challenge by Trump’s team there.
However, as Wisconsin only has 10 electoral votes, even if the state did not end up certifying those for Biden—which is unlikely—Biden still has a lock on the presidency. Biden has been declared the winner of 306 electoral votes, and even if you subtract Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes, that would still leave Biden with 296 votes—well above the 270 needed to be declared president.