For State Officials
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Responsibilities of the States in the Electoral College
The Constitution of the United States and Federal law place certain Presidential election responsibilities on State executives.
Before the general election, the Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero, contacts the Governors of each State and the Mayor of the District of Columbia, sharing resources to help them carry out their responsibilities. (We will update this page with 2020 resources in the summer of 2020.)
- a letter from the Archivist—view a sample letter
- detailed procedural instructions and a checklist outlining the State’s responsibilities
- a timeline of key dates for the Electoral College
- a pamphlet highlighting the Presidential Election provisions in the Constitution and Federal Law
OFR prepared the following instructions under the authority of 3 U.S.C. 6, 11, 12, and 13 to help the States perform their duties. The District of Columbia is allocated 3 electors and treated like a State for purposes of the Electoral College under the 23rd Amendment of the Constitution. Therefore, in these instructions, the word “State” also refers to the District of Columbia and the word “Governor” also refers to the Mayor of the District of Columbia.
By November 3, 2020 (Election Day)
- What: Hold general election to appoint electors.
- Who: Governors’ legal counsel, Secretaries of State, and other State election officials.
Read the “Appoint electors” instructions on qualifications of electors and restrictions in the U.S. Constitution.
As soon as possible after the November 3, 2020 election results are finalized
- What: Prepare and distribute the Certificate of Ascertainment.
- Who: Governor of each State, Secretaries of State, and other State election officials.
Read the "Certificate of Ascertainment" instructions for details on where / who / how to send the documents.
By December 8, 2020
- What: Resolve any issues regarding election recounts, controversies, or contests.
- Who: Governors’ legal counsel, Secretaries of State, State courts.
December 14, 2020 (meeting of the electors)
- What: Meeting of the Electors.
- Who: Electors of each State, Governor of each State, and Secretaries of State.
Read the "Certificate of Vote" instructions for details on how to prepare the Certificates.
By December 23, 2020 (statutory deadline for receipt of Certificates)
- What: Distribute the Certificates of Vote.
- Who: Electors of each State, Governor of each State, and Secretaries of State.
Read the "Certificate of Vote" instructions for details on where / who / how to send the Certificates.
January 6, 2021
- What: Count the electoral votes.
- Who: Congress.
Instructions for State Officials
1. Appoint electors
The U.S. Constitution and Federal law only require that electors must be appointed on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. In most States, the political parties nominate slates of electors at State conventions or central committee meetings. Then the Governors of each State appoint the electors chosen by the political party whose candidate won the 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 relevant 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 OFR advises the States that the restriction could disqualify any person who holds a Federal government job from serving as an elector.
2. Prepare the Certificates of Ascertainment
After the general election results are certified, the Governor of each State prepares seven original Certificates of Ascertainment listing the persons appointed as electors. Federal law does not have appearance or formatting requirements for of the Certificates of Ascertainment, so each State determines its own format. The format conforms to the law or custom of the submitting State. Federal law requires that the Certificates of Ascertainment be prepared and authenticated as follows:
- list the names of the electors chosen by the voters and the number of votes received.
- list the names of all other candidates for elector and the number of votes received.
- be signed by the Governor and carry the seal of the State.
3. Distribute the Certificates of Ascertainment
Send one of the seven original Certificates of Ascertainment, along with two certified copies (or two additional originals) to the Archivist.
These should be sent to the Archivist as soon as possible after the general election results are finalized. At the very latest, the electors must receive them for the meeting of the electors and send them to the Archivist with the Certificates of Vote.
OFR, on behalf of the Archivist, will examine the Certificates of Ascertainment for facial validity and contact the State if there are any problems. Retain the other six originals for the meeting of the electors. Those six originals will be attached to the Certificates of Vote at the meeting of the electors.
4. Hold the meeting of electors
On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, the electors meet in their respective States. Federal law does not permit the States to choose an alternate date for the meeting of the electors—it must be held on that specific day. The State legislature may designate where in the State the meeting will take place, usually in the State capital. At this meeting, the Electors vote for President and Vice President.
If any electors cannot carry out their duties on the day of the meeting of the electors, the laws of each State govern the method for filling vacancies. Any controversy or contest concerning the appointment of electors must be decided, following the law of that State, at least six days before 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. However, some States do have such requirements.
5. Prepare the Certificates of Vote
Federal law does not have appearance or formatting requirements for the Certificates of Vote, so each State determines its own format. Federal law requires that the Certificates be prepared and authenticated as follows:
- contain two distinct lists, one for President and one for Vice President; and
- list all individuals who received electoral votes for President and the number of electors who voted for each person;
- list all individuals who received votes for Vice President and the number of electors who voted for each person;
- do not contain the names of individuals who did not receive electoral votes;
- are signed by all of the electors.
- has attached an original Certificate of Ascertainment as provided to the electors by the Governor.
- are sealed and certified by the electors as containing the list of electoral votes of that State for President and Vice President.
- One is sent to the President of the Senate.
- Two are sent to the Archivist. OFR, on behalf of the Archivist, will examine the Certificates for facial validity and contact the State if there are any problems
Two are sent to the Secretary of State of each State.
- One pair of Certificates 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.
- One pair of Certificates 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.
Because of the very short time between the meeting of the electors and the statutory deadline for receipt of the votes, followed closely by the counting of electoral votes in Congress on January 6, 2021, send the Certificates as soon as possible.
OFR strongly recommends that the States send the sealed pairs of Certificates immediately after the meeting of the electors, or no later than the following morning, to minimize delays that could occur during the holiday mailing season. Once all designated Federal and State officials have received the paired Certificates, the States have fulfilled their Electoral College duties.
Before the 2020 election, OFR will reach out to Secretaries of State and other election officials to establish points of contact with the States and assure the smooth operation of the Electoral College process.