October 22, 2008
The Electoral College and the National Archives
Washington, DC…For most Americans, Election Day marks the end of the presidential selection process. At the National Archives, it is only the beginning.
Most Americans know that the National Archives preserves historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. But a little known function of the National Archives is the administration of the Electoral College by the Office of the Federal Register.
After Election Day the staff at the Federal Register ensure the complicated and sometimes confusing steps in the electoral process are followed exactly. In the weeks prior to the election, they contact state officials who will be responsible for carrying out the provisions of the Constitution and United States Code governing the Electoral College. The main task of National Archives staff is to guide state officials in preparing Certificates of Ascertainment, that identify the electors, and the Certificates of Vote, that document how the electors voted.
The Electoral College consists of 538 Electors (one for each of 435 U.S. Representatives and 100 U.S. Senators, and three for the District of Columbia). Each state has the same number of electors as it does Members of Congress -- Representatives and Senators. In most states, each political party selects a slate of electors, and the slate pledged to the candidate who won the most popular votes is elected to the Electoral College. Immediately after Election Day, the Governors of each state and the Mayor of the District of Columbia must prepare Certificates of Ascertainment that identify their slate of electors. The states send these certificates by registered mail to the Archivist of the United States, who is required by law to administer the Electoral College.
As the Archivist and the Office of the Federal Register receive the Certificates of Ascertainment from each state, attorneys check them for facial legal sufficiency. When all certificates are received, the Federal Register makes copies available for public inspection and transmits certificates to each House of Congress.
On December 15, electors meet in each state to cast their votes for President and Vice President. The votes are documented on Certificates of Vote, and the execution of these certificates is witnessed by the Governor, who sends the certificates to the President of the Senate and the Archivist of the United States. As the Certificates of Vote are delivered to the National Archives, attorneys examine the certificates for legal sufficiency. They then make copies available to the public and secure the originals.
The next step at the National Archives is to ensure the Certificates of Vote have been delivered to Congress. The states are required to send certificates directly to the President of the Senate, where they are held under seal until January 6, 2009, when Congress opens and counts them in joint session. The Archivist is responsible for ensuring in advance that the certificates are properly executed and that all Electoral Votes are accounted for. If the President of the Senate has not received copies of the Certificates of Vote sent by the states, the Archivist provides sealed copies.
After the Certificates of Vote are opened and tabulated in a Joint Session of Congress, they are placed in the permanent custody of the National Archives. The National Archives preserves Electoral College documents dating from 1789.
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For press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at (202) 357-5300.