Will Pence do the right thing?

Nothing in either the text of the Constitution or the Electoral Count Act gives the vice president any substantive powers. His powers are ministerial, and that circumscribed role makes general sense: The whole point of an election is to let the people decide who will rule them. If an incumbent could simply maneuver to keep himself in office — after all, a maneuver to protect Mr. Trump also protects Mr. Pence — the most foundational precept of our government would be gravely undermined. In America, “we the people,” not “we, the vice president,” control our destiny.

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.

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