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Washington CNN  — 

President Donald Trump’s struggle to deny the results of the election is now up against an existential threat: a rapid succession of states due to certify their election results before the critical date of December 8.

Certification is usually just a formality. But the process has taken on new importance this year as Trump’s legal team has sought to delay the finalization of results – a strategy aimed at denying Joe Biden his due victory in the Electoral College, which votes December 14.

The idea is that if there’s no certification, then Republican-run state legislatures in a few key states – especially Michigan and Pennsylvania – could appoint pro-Trump slates of presidential electors, even though Biden won the popular vote in those states.

The entire scheme revolves around December 8. That’s the “safe harbor” deadline under federal law. What that means is that when Congress tallies the electoral votes in January, it must accept electors that were certified before the deadline. If a state missed the deadline, then Congress can consider disputed slates of electors.

So Trump’s subversion efforts become impossible if key states certify their results before then – but the whole election remains in play if Trump’s team can push certification past the magic date.

RELATED: CNN’s live results from the presidential election

A number of critical states are set to certify their results this week. The first two to keep an eye on are Pennsylvania and Michigan:

In Pennsylvania, there isn’t a State Board of Canvassers to certify state results. Instead, it’s done just on the county level. Of the 67 counties in the state, all of the county Board of Elections – except Philadelphia – are expected to have meetings on Monday to certify their election results.

Philadelphia County is expected to meet on Monday or Tuesday. Berks County is expected to meet on Wednesday, according to the Washington Post. A pending lawsuit filed in state court by Trump backers over the weekend is attempting to delay certification, though it’s unlikely to disrupt the process.

The Trump campaign has also launched an appeal in a separate lawsuit in the state after Judge Matthew Brann of the US District Court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania on Saturday dismissed their effort to invalidate millions of Pennsylvania votes.

Legal experts told CNN the appeal’s chances of success are inconceivable.

Once the counties certify results, the information is sent to Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar who then will award the state’s 20 electoral votes to the winner.

In Michigan, the State Board of Canvassers is set to meet Monday to certify the state’s election results, but there is a lot of attention on what its two GOP members will do.

According to Rep. Paul Mitchell, who spoke days ago with Norman Shinkle, one of the two GOP members, Shinkle indicated he would vote against certifying the election results until an investigation is completed so as to push a delay – even though there is no evidence of fraud or malfeasance that would necessitate such a move.

Shinkle told the New York Times that he had received hundreds of messages both favoring and opposing certification. “You can’t make up your mind before you get all the facts,” he told the Times.

There’s drama elsewhere, too.

In Wisconsin, which isn’t set to certify results until next month, a Republican member of the Election Commission posted a tweet praising a well-known conspiracy theorist who has spread false claims about voter fraud.

And in Georgia, which has already certified results, the Trump campaign has requested a formal recount. Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s Voting System Implementation Manager, said Monday that the recount would probably start sometime Tuesday, and “will probably wrap up sometime next week.”

The bottom line: All of this chaos drummed up by Trump’s team might not go anywhere. But it has turned the usually procedural process of states certifying their results into a drama that, at a minimum, allows doubt about the validity of the election to spread – and, at the extreme, gives Trump an unexpected opening to maneuver his way into keeping power. It’s unlikely, but Trump has surprised everyone before.

Here’s the full rundown of states that are scheduled to finalize their vote totals this week, according to CNN’s political unit:

Monday, 11/23

  • Arizona (county certification deadline)
  • Maine
  • Michigan (state certification meeting)
  • Pennsylvania (county certification deadline)
  • Tennessee (county certification deadline)
  • Utah

Tuesday, 11/24

  • Washington, DC
  • Indiana
  • Minnesota
  • North Carolina (state certification meeting)
  • New Mexico
  • Nevada (state certification meeting)

Wednesday, 11/25

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Connecticut
  • Massachusetts (likely, according to state election officials)

Saturday, 11/28

  • Ohio (state certification meeting)

Arizona and Wisconsin, two other states that were late projections, are due to certify the week after Thanksgiving.

CNN’s Jason Morris, Marshall Cohen and Kelly Mena contributed to this report.