The Electoral College: It’s a Process, Not a Place

The Electoral College is how we refer to the process by which the United States elects the President, even though that term does not appear in the U.S. Constitution. In this process, the States (which includes the District of Columbia just for this process) elect the President and Vice President. The Constitution of the United States and Federal law place certain Presidential election responsibilities on State executives.

The Office of the Federal Register (OFR), is a part of the National Archives and Records Administration and, on behalf of the Archivist of the United States, coordinates certain functions of the Electoral College between the States and Congress. 

The National Archives administers the electoral process by receiving Certificates of Ascertainment of electors and Certificates of Vote from the States and the District of Columbia. NARA’s Office of the Federal Register reviews the Certificates for legal sufficiency and makes them available to the Congress for the official accounting of electors and votes. OFR also provides the public with access to electoral documents and information about the Electoral College. In addition to posting them on our website, OFR makes the physical Certificates available for public inspection for one year following the election. After that year, the Certificates become part of the National Archives collection. The OFR has no role in appointing electors and has no contact with them.

Certificates of appointment (or ascertainment) and vote of Massachusetts Electors for Abraham Lincoln for President, and Andrew Johnson for Vice President, in the 1864 Presidential Election. National Archives Identifier 134379652 

This year, the Presidential election and selection of electors will occur on November 3, 2020, and the State meetings of the electors will be held on December 14, 2020. 

The Governor of each State (including the Mayor of the District of Columbia) performs certain duties to carry out the functions of the Electoral College. Each State is responsible for documenting the selection of electors and the electors’ votes for President and Vice President, and for ensuring that properly executed certificates reach the appropriate Federal and State officials. 

Before the general election, the Archivist of the United States contacts the Governors of each State and the Mayor of the District of Columbia, sharing resources to help them carry out their responsibilities. I recently sent letters to each of the State Governors to offer assistance from the National Archives as they prepare to perform their responsibilities in the upcoming Electoral College process.  

The National Archives is committed to ensuring the smooth operation of the Electoral College process this year. Our website is now updated with this year’s deadlines along with the provisions of the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Code that relate to the election of the President and Vice President. The checklist and instructions for State officials, and an informational pamphlet for electors, are also available on that website: https://www.archives.gov/electoral-college/state-officials.  

4 thoughts on “The Electoral College: It’s a Process, Not a Place

  1. As I read through your post and the documents, what happens if a state decides not to meet the deadline dates. This includes the Governor, Secretary of State and the judge. What if the Department of Justice doesn’t want to do anything. I can’t believe that this is possible, but this year it seems that anything is possible.

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