Summary of Key Dates, Events & Information
June thru October 2004
- Preparation Stage
The Federal Register prepares letters and instructional materials for the Archivist to send to the Governors of the 50 States and the Mayor of the District of Columbia. The materials include pamphlets on Federal election law and detailed instructions on how to prepare and submit the electors' credentials (Certificates of Ascertainment) and the electoral votes (Certificates of Vote). In October, the Federal Register begins contacting Governors and Secretaries of State to establish contacts for the coming election.
November 2, 2004
- General Election
Registered voters in each State and the District of Columbia vote for President and Vice President. They cast their vote by selecting a pair of candidates listed on a single Presidential/Vice Presidential ticket. By doing so, they also choose slates of Electors to serve in the Electoral College.
Forty-eight of the fifty States and the District of Columbia are "winner-take-all" (ME and NE are the exceptions).
Mid-November thru December 13, 2004
- Transmission of Certificates of Ascertainment to NARA
The Ascertainment lists the names of the electors appointed and the number of votes cast for each person. The States prepare seven originals authenticated by the Governor's signature and the State seal. One original and two certified copies are sent to the Federal Register (the remaining six are attached to the electoral votes at the State meetings). The Governors must submit the certificates "as soon as practicable," after their States certify election results. They should be transmitted no later than December 13 (but Federal law sets no penalty for missing the deadline).
December 7, 2004
- Date for Determination of Controversy as to Appointment of Electors
States must make final determinations of any controversies or contests as to the appointment of electors at least six days before December 13 meetings of electors for their electoral votes to be presumptively valid when presented to Congress. Determinations by States' lawful tribunals are conclusive, if decided under laws enacted prior to election day.
December 13, 2004
- Meetings of Electors
and Transmission of Certificates of Vote to NARA
The electors meet in their State to select the President and Vice President of the United States. No Constitutional provision or Federal law requires electors to vote in accordance with the popular vote in their States. NARA's web site lists the States that have laws to bind electors to candidates. The electors record their votes on six "Certificates of Vote," which are paired with the six remaining Certificates of Ascertainment. The electors sign, seal and certify packages of electoral votes and immediately send one set of votes to the President of the Senate (Richard B. Cheney) and two sets to the Archivist. The Federal Register preserves one archival set and holds the reserve set subject to the call of the President of the Senate to replace missing or incomplete electoral votes.
December 22, 2004
- Deadline for Receipt of Electoral Votes at NARA
The President of the Senate and the Archivist should have the electoral votes in hand by December 22, 2004 (States face no legal penalty for failure to comply). If votes are lost or delayed, the Archivist may take extraordinary measures to retrieve duplicate originals.
On or Before January 3, 2005
- Transmission of Certificates of Ascertainment to Congress
As the new Congress assembles, the Archivist transmits copies of the Certificates of Ascertainment to Congress. This generally occurs in late December or early January when the Archivist and/or representatives from the Federal Register meet with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House. This is, in part, a ceremonial occasion. Informal meetings may take place earlier.
January 6, 2005
- Counting Electoral Votes in Congress
The Congress meets in joint session to count the electoral votes (Congress may pass a law to change the date). The President of the Senate is the presiding officer. If a Senator and a House member jointly submit an objection, each House would retire to its chamber to consider it. The President and Vice President must achieve a majority of electoral votes (270) to be elected. In the absence of a majority, the House selects the President, and the Senate selects the Vice President. If a State submits conflicting sets of electoral votes to Congress, the two Houses acting concurrently may accept or reject the votes. If they do not concur, the votes of the electors certified by the Governor of the State would be counted in Congress.
January 20, 2005 at Noon
The President elect takes the Oath of Office and becomes the U.S. President.
The Archivist of the United States, as the head of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), is responsible for carrying out ministerial duties on behalf of the States and the Congress under 3 U.S.C. sections 6, 11, 12, and 13. NARA is primarily responsible for coordinating the various stages of the electoral process by helping the States prepare and submit certificates that establish the appointment of electors and validate the electoral votes of each State. The Archivist delegates operational duties to the Director of the Federal Register. The Federal Register Legal Staff ensures that electoral documents are transmitted to Congress, made available to the public, and preserved as part of our nation's history. The Legal Staff reviews the electoral certificates for the required signatures, seals and other matters of form, as specified in Federal law. Only the Congress and the Courts have the authority to rule on substantive legal issues.
Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration, March 2004.