In its time-honored tradition, the 538 members of the Electoral College meet in 51 locations on Monday to choose a new President. So what will happen during the day and what are the next steps?
Ohio electors vote in 2012. Creative Commons: Ibagli
On November 8, 2016, voters around the country to choose electors pledged to represent their party candidates in Electoral College voting. In the end, 306 electors were pledged to Donald Trump and 232 were pledged to Hillary Clinton. In the overall popular vote, which is not a factor in the Electoral College, Clinton led Trump by about 2.8 million votes.
On December 13, 2016, the states and the District of Columbia filed certificates of ascertainment with a federal government agency. The Office of the Federal Register coordinates the Electoral College process, and on rare occasions, it also handles the administration of the constitutional amendment process.
In May 1950, President Harry Truman signed Reorganization Plan No. 20, which transferred the administration of the Electoral College from the Secretary of State to the Office of the Federal Register. Since then, the office has overseen the Electoral College process.
The Office and its Archivist receives two documents from each state. One is the Certificate of Ascertainment, which confirms that the state’s chief executive has validated the election results and the names of qualified electors chosen to represent each candidate. This year, the certificates were due on December 13 under the federal safe-harbor law. Once the certificates are verified, they are posted on the Office’s website.
On December 19, the Electoral College meetings are held. The Archivist sends general instructions to the state in advance about how the Electoral College meetings should be conducted. Federal law does not allow the states to choose an alternate date for the meeting of electors—it must be held on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December.
The state legislature designates where the meeting will take place; it is usually at the state capital. At this meeting, the electors for the candidate with the most certified votes 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 determine the method for filling vacancies. Any controversy concerning the appointment of electors must be decided under state law at least six days prior to the meeting of the electors.
State laws also determine how the Electoral College deals with faithless electors who cast votes for candidates other than those whom they pledged to vote for. In some cases, their votes are registered.
According to information about the Electoral College proceedings from the National Association of Secretaries of States, Electoral College voting is conducted between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. local at various state capitals and at the District of Columbia. The Associated Press called the Electoral College vote for Barack Obama shortly before 6 p.m. Eastern Time on December 17, 2012.
Of the 51 Electoral College meetings, 23 states and the District of Columbia have provisions requiring that electors vote for the nominees of their pledged parties. In some cases, as in Michigan, faithless electors are disqualified and replaced by alternates. “Refusal or failure to vote for the candidates for president and vice-president appearing on the Michigan ballot of the political party which nominated the elector constitutes a resignation from the office of elector, his vote shall not be recorded and the remaining electors shall forthwith fill the vacancy,’ the Michigan law reads.
It’s unclear what happens in states that bar faithless electors but don’t provide for their disqualification. Most of these states have laws that say electors “shall” vote for their party’s nominee. Colorado law, for example, says “each presidential elector shall vote for the presidential candidate and, by separate ballot, vice-presidential candidate who received the highest number of votes at the preceding general election in this state.”
A Colorado state judge on Tuesday ruled that any faithless electors violating this provision in the state law would suffer the same fate as Michigan’s faithless electors.
After the voting is concluded, the state-level secretaries of states transmit the results to the Office of the Federal Register on or after December 19, 2016 after the electors sign and seal a Certificate of Vote for each state. Other copies go to the Vice President (as president of the Senate) and other officials.
As the results of the Certificates of Vote are confirmed by the Office of the Federal Register, they are posted on its website. The certificates must be received by December 28. Then, the Archivist meets with House and Senate clerks by January 3, to prepare paperwork for the January 6, 2017 reading of the votes at a joint session of Congress.
During the joint session starting at 1 p.m., the votes are read out loud in alphabetical order by state. Member of Congress can object by voice and in writing to contest a set of votes from a state. But unless the House and Senate agree to disqualify the votes, they are counted in the final tally and a President and Vice President are elected.
Scott Bomboy is the editor in chief of the National Constitution Center.
Recent Electoral College Stories on Constitution Daily
Faithless Elector Provisions By State
|Arizona||not stated in law||Allowed|
|DC||not stated in law||No|
|Florida||not stated in law||Allowed|
|Iowa||not stated in law||Allowed|
|Maryland||not stated in law||No|
|Massachusetts||not stated in law||Allowed|
|Mississippi||not stated in law||Allowed|
|Nevada||not stated in law||No|
|New Hampshire||not stated in law||Allowed|
|Oregon||not stated in law||Allowed|
|Vermont||not stated in law||No|
|West Virginia||not stated||Allowed|