U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
 www.archives.gov July 22, 2014 

For State Officials

Responsibilities of the States in the Presidential Election

The Constitution of the United States and Federal law place certain Presidential election responsibilities on State executives and the electors for President and Vice President.

These instructions have been prepared by the National Archives and Records Administration's Office of the Federal Register under the authority of 3 U.S.C. 6, 11, 12, and 13 to assist the States in performing their duties. In these instructions, the term "Governor" includes the Mayor of the District of Columbia and the term "State" includes the District of Columbia.


Key Electoral College Dates and Events

View all the 2008 Presidential Election Key Dates

  • November 4, 2008 - General Election:
    The voters in each State choose electors to serve in the Electoral College. As soon as election results are final, the States prepare seven original "Certificates of Ascertainment" of the electors chosen, and send one original along with two certified copies to the Archivist of the United States at the Office of the Federal Register.

  • December 15, 2008 - Meeting of Electors:
    The electors in each State meet to select the President and Vice President of the United States. The electors record their votes on six "Certificates of Vote," which are paired with the six remaining original "Certificates of Ascertainment." The electors sign, seal and certify the packages of electoral votes and immediately send them to the Federal and State officials listed in these instructions.

  • December 24, 2008 - Deadline for Receipt of Electoral Votes:
    The President of the Senate, the Archivist of the United States, and other designated Federal and State officials must have the electoral votes in hand.

  • January 6, 2009 - Counting Electoral Votes in Congress:
    The Congress meets in joint session to count the electoral votes (unless Congress passes a law to change the date).


Electoral College Instructions

1.   Appoint Electors
The United States Constitution and Federal law do not prescribe the method of appointment other than requiring that electors must be appointed on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November (November 4, 2008). In most States, the political parties nominate slates of electors at State conventions or central committee meetings. Then the citizens of each State appoint the electors by popular vote in the state-wide general election. However, State laws on the appointment of electors may vary.

Under the Constitution, State legislatures have broad powers to direct the process for selecting electors, with one exception regarding the qualifications of electors. Article II, section 1, clause 2 provides that "no Senator, Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States" may be appointed as an elector. It is not settled as to whether this restriction extends to all Federal officials regardless of their level of authority or the capacity in which they serve, but we advise the States that the restriction could disqualify any person who holds a Federal government job from serving as an elector.


2.   Prepare the Certificate of Ascertainment
After the general election, the Governor of each State prepares seven original Certificates of Ascertainment listing the persons appointed as electors. Federal law does not govern the general appearance of the Certificate of Ascertainment. The format conforms to the law or custom of the submitting State. Federal law requires that the Certificates of Ascertainment be prepared and authenticated in the following manner:

  • Each Certificate must list the names of the electors chosen by the voters and the number of votes received.
  • Each Certificate must list the names of all other candidates for elector and the number of votes received.
  • Each Certificate must be signed by the Governor and carry the seal of the State.

3.   Distribute the Certificate of Ascertainment
One of the seven original Certificates of Ascertainment, along with two certified copies (or two additional originals) must be sent by registered mail to:

Allen Weinstein
Archivist of the United States
National Archives and Records Administration
c/o Office of the Federal Register (NF)
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001

The original Certificate and two certified copies (or duplicate originals) should be sent to the Archivist as soon as possible after the November 4 election results are finalized. At the very latest, they must be received by the electors on the statutory deadline of December 15, 2008 and submitted to the Archivist no later than December 16, 2008.

The Legal Staff of the Office of the Federal Register will examine the Certificates for legal sufficiency and send the certified copies or duplicate originals to the U.S. House and Senate. The other six originals must be retained by the State for the meeting of the State's electors on December 15, 2008. Those six originals will be attached to the Certificates of Vote executed at the Electoral College meeting.


4.   Hold the Meeting of Electors
On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December (December 15, 2008), the electors meet in their respective States. Federal law does not permit the States to choose an alternate date for the meeting of electors - it must be held on December 15, 2008. The State legislature may designate where in the State the meeting will take place, usually in the State capital. At this meeting, the electors cast their votes for President and Vice President.

If any electors are unable to carry out their duties on the day of the Electoral College meeting, the laws of each State would govern the method for filling vacancies. Any controversy or contest concerning the appointment of electors must be decided under State law at least six days prior to the meeting of the electors.

There is no Constitutional provision or Federal law requiring electors to vote in accordance with the popular vote in their States. Some States have such requirements.


5.   Prepare the Certificate of Vote
Federal law does not govern the general appearance of the Certificate of Vote. The format is determined under the law or custom of the submitting State. The electors must execute six Certificates of Vote. Federal law requires that the Certificates be prepared and authenticated in the following manner:

  • The Certificates of Vote must contain two distinct lists, one for President and one for Vice President.
    • The Certificates must list all persons who received electoral votes for President and the number of electors who voted for each person.
    • The Certificates must list all persons who received votes for Vice President and the number of electors who voted for each person.
    • The Certificates do not contain the names of persons who did not receive electoral votes.
  • Each of the six Certificates of Vote must be signed by all of the electors.
  • One of the six Certificates of Ascertainment provided to the electors by the Governor must be attached to each of the six Certificates of Vote.
  • Finally, each of the six pairs of Certificates must be sealed and certified by the electors as containing the list of electoral votes of that State for President and Vice President.

6.   Distribute the Paired Certificates of Vote and Certificates of Ascertainment
The six pairs of Certificates must be sent to the designated Federal and State officials as follows:

  • One is sent by registered mail to:

    The Honorable Richard B. Cheney
    President of the United States Senate
    The Capitol
    Washington, DC 20510

  • Two are sent by registered mail to:

    Allen Weinstein
    Archivist of the United States
    National Archives and Records Administration
    c/o Office of the Federal Register (NF)
    8601 Adelphi Road
    College Park, MD 20740-6001

  • Two are sent to:

    The Secretary of State of each State.
    • One of these is held subject to the order of the President of the United States Senate or the Archivist of the United States in case the electoral votes fail to reach the Senate or the Archivist.
    • The other one is to be preserved by the Secretary of State for public inspection for one year.

  • One is sent to:

    The Chief Judge of the Federal District Court located where the electors meet.
    • It is held subject to the order of the President of the United States Senate or the Archivist of the United States in case the electoral votes fail to reach the Senate or the Archivist.

The statutory deadline for the designated Federal and State officials to receive the electoral votes is December 24, 2008. Because of the very short time between the meetings of the electors in the States on December 15 and the December 24 statutory deadline, followed closely by the counting of electoral votes in Congress on January 6, 2009, it is imperative that the Certificates be mailed as soon as possible.

We strongly recommend that the sealed pairs of Certificates be taken to the Post Office on December 15, or no later than the morning of December 16, to minimize delays that could occur during the holiday mail season. Some States may find it useful to alert their local Postmaster to the extraordinarily important nature of the mailing. When the paired Certificates of Vote and Certificates of Ascertainment have been delivered to the designated Federal and State officials, the States' Electoral College duties are complete.

Prior to the election this year, the Legal Staff of the Office of the Federal Register will telephone Secretaries of State and other election officials to establish contact with the States and assure the smooth operation of the Electoral College process.


Contacts

For more information on the Electoral College and the election responsibilities of the States and the Archivist of the United States, contact the Office of the Federal Register:

Telephone:   202-741-6030
E-mail:   electoral_college@nara.gov

Your Electoral College contacts at the Office of the Federal Register are:

  • Amy Bunk, Director of Legal Affairs and Policy
  • Allyson Fenton Christou, Attorney-Advisor
Page URL:  http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/state_responsibilities.html
U.S. National Archives & Records Administration
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