WASHINGTON — This year's election was not the last step in selecting Joe Biden as the next American president. Under a system that's been tweaked over two centuries, there is still a weeks-long timeline during which the 538-member Electoral College formally selects the president.
A look at the key steps:
— When American citizens voted for Biden or President Donald Trump, they really were voting for electors in their state. Those electors in most cases are committed to support the winning candidate in the state. The number of electors is equal to the number of electoral votes held by each state. State laws vary on how electors are selected, but, generally, a slate of electors for each party's candidate is chosen by state party leaders.
— States are still counting and certifying the results of the popular vote. When the count is completed, each governor is required by law to prepare "as soon as practicable" documents known as "Certificates of Ascertainment" of the vote. The certificates list the electors' names and the number of votes cast for the winner and loser. The certificates, carrying the seal of each state, are sent to the archivist of the United States.
— Dec. 8 is the deadline for resolving election disputes at the state level. All state recounts and court contests over presidential election results are to be completed by this date. Trump's campaign is contesting the vote count in several states through legal challenges, but none of those efforts are expected to alter the outcome.
— Dec. 14: Electors vote by paper ballot in their respective states and the District of Columbia. Thirty-three states and D.C. have laws or party regulations requiring electors to vote the same way the popular vote goes in the state. In some states, rogue electors can be replaced or subjected to penalties, according to the Congressional Research Service. The votes for president and vice president are counted and the electors sign six "Certificates of the Vote." The certificates, along with other official papers, are sent by registered mail to various officials, including the president of the Senate.
— Dec. 23: The certificates must be delivered to the designated officials. If they are not delivered, the law provides alternative avenues for getting the results to Washington.
— Jan. 6: The House and Senate hold a joint session to count the electoral votes. If one ticket has received 270 or more electoral votes, the president of the Senate, currently Vice President Mike Pence, announces the results. With the verdict in some states still to come, Biden already has won enough states to be awarded more than 270 electoral votes.
Members of Congress may object to returns from any state as they are announced. Objections must be made in writing by at least one member of the House and one in the Senate. If the objection meets certain requirements, each chamber meets separately to debate the objection for a maximum of two hours. Afterward, each chamber votes to accept or reject the objection. Back in joint session, the results of the respective votes are announced. Any objection to a state's electoral vote has to be approved by both houses in order for any contested votes to be excluded.
If neither presidential candidate got at least 270 electoral votes, the House would decide the election, based on the 12th Amendment to the Constitution. If required, the House would elect the president. Each state delegation has one vote and it takes 26 votes to win.
— Jan. 20: Biden takes the oath of office on Inauguration Day.