Election Day was Tuesday, November 6, 2012
The Electoral College and the National Archives and Records Administration
The 1888 Presidential election was very close. Democratic party candidate
President Grover Cleveland and running mate Allen G. Thurman of Ohio won
the popular election by 95,713 votes. President Cleveland, however, was
not re-elected because he lost the electoral college vote by 65 votes.
Instead Benjamin Harrison, former senator from Indiana and the Grandson
of President William Henry Harrison, was elected as the 23rd President
of the United States.
Today a President must win 270 electoral votes, a majority, to become President.
If no candidate wins a majority of electoral votes, the 12th Amendment to the Constitution provides for
Presidential election by the House of Representatives with each State delegation
receiving one vote. Twice in our history, the House of Representatives has chosen
the President -- Thomas Jefferson's election in 1801 and John Quincy Adams'
election in 1825.
The first constitutional crisis occurred when Thomas Jefferson and Aaron
Burr received the same number of electoral votes. Even though they were
both Republicans and Jefferson was chosen as the Presidential candidate
and Burr as the Vice Presidential candidate, it took the House of Representatives
36 successive ballots to finally elect Thomas Jefferson as President. Twenty-four
years later, again no candidate received a 131 vote majority of electoral
votes needed to become President. In this case, the House of Representatives
voted for John Quincy Adams over Andrew Jackson and William H. Crawford
on the first ballot.
These instances in our political history remind us of the important
role that the Electoral College plays in electing a President. The majority
of our readers know that the National Archives and Records Administration
(NARA) is the repository for essential evidence that documents the rights
of American citizens, the actions of Federal officials and the national
experience. A little known function of NARA, however, is the administration
of the Electoral College by the Office of the Federal Register. As part
of the documentation of the rights of American citizens, the Federal Register
plays a key role in ensuring that the complicated and sometimes confusing
steps in the electoral process are followed exactly.
The Electoral College was devised by the founding fathers as a compromise
between the election of a President by popular vote and by the Congress.
The College currently consists of 538 electors -- based on the total number
of Representatives and Senators, plus three District of Columbia electors.
The electors are a popularly elected body chosen by the states and the
District of Columbia on the day of the general election (November 2, 2004).
The slate of electors for the Presidential candidate who receives the most
popular votes is recorded on a Certificate of Ascertainment.
The next step is for the electors in each State to meet to cast their
votes. In 2004 the vote will take place on December 13. Certificates
of Vote are prepared listing all persons voted for as President and as
Vice President and the number of electors voting for each candidate.
NARA plays an important role in educating the states regarding their
responsibilities vis a vis the Electoral College. It also ensures the facial
sufficiency of the Certificates of Ascertainment and the Certificates of
Vote and controls the integrity of the Certificates by limiting the number
of people handling the documents. It is responsible for transmitting two
of the original Certificates of Ascertainment to the House and Senate and
making one original available for public inspection at the Federal Register.
Finally, NARA ensures that all 538 electoral votes are accounted for
on the Certificates of Vote and are delivered to the Congress to be unsealed
and counted on the date of the official tally (January 6, 2005).
After one year the Certificates of Ascertainment and the Certificates
of Vote are placed in the permanent custody of NARA where they serve as
an enduring testimonial to the strength and resilience of our political
Source: National Archives and Records Administration Calendar of Events
-- May 1996.