A Procedural Guide to the Electoral College
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Excerpt from an original document located at National Archives and Records Administration

The States

The United States Constitution and Federal law place certain responsibilities relating to the Presidential election upon State executives and the electors for President and Vice President. Neither the Constitution nor Federal law prescribe the manner in which each State appoints its electors other than directing that they be appointed on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November (November 7, 2000). The Constitution forbids a Senator, Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States from being appointed as an elector.

In most States, the electors are appointed by state-wide popular election. The slate of electors for the candidate who receives the most popular votes is appointed. The slates of electors are generally chosen by the political parties. However, the States' laws vary on the appointment of electors. In Maine and Nebraska, two electors are chosen at-large by state-wide popular vote and the rest are selected by the popular vote in each congressional district. As a result, the electoral procedure in these States permits a split slate of electors to be chosen.

After the general election, the Governor of each State and the Mayor of the District of Columbia prepare a Certificate of Ascertainment of the electors appointed (herein, the term "Governor" includes the Mayor of the District of Columbia). The Certificate of Ascertainment must list the names of the electors appointed and the number of votes received by each. It must also list the names of all other candidates for elector and the number of votes received by each. The Certificate must be signed by the Governor and carry the seal of the State. The format of the Certificate is not dictated by Federal law, but conforms to the law or custom of the submitting State.

The Governor must prepare seven original Certificates of Ascertainment. One original, along with two authenticated copies (or two additional originals) must be sent by registered mail to the Archivist of the United States, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC 20408. The Certificates should be sent as soon as practicable after the election, but must be submitted to the Archivist no later than the day after the meetings of the electors, which occur on December 18, 2000. The other six originals must be delivered to the State's electors on or before December 18, 2000.

On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December (December 18, 2000), the electors meet in their respective States. The State legislature may designate where in the State the meeting will take place. It usually takes place in the State capital, often in the capitol building. At this meeting, the electors vote by ballot for President and Vice President. There must be distinct ballots for President and Vice President. The electors' votes are recorded on a Certificate of Vote. This Certificate must contain a list of all persons voted for as President and the number of electors voting for each. It must also contain a list of persons voted for as Vice President and the number of electors voting for each. The names of candidates receiving no electoral votes do not appear on the Certificate of Vote.

There is no Constitutional provision or Federal law requiring electors to vote in accordance with the popular vote in their States. In the 1976 election, a Washington elector pledged to President Gerald Ford voted for Ronald Reagan. In the 1988 election, a West Virginia elector voted for Senator Lloyd Bentsen as President and for Governor Michael Dukakis as Vice President. But some state laws require electors to cast their votes according to the popular vote and provide that so-called "faithless electors" may be subject to fines or may be disqualified for casting an invalid vote and be replaced by a substitute elector.

The format of the Certificate is not dictated by Federal law, but is determined by the law or custom of each State. Six original Certificates of Vote must be prepared by the electors. Each Certificate must be signed by all of the electors. One of the six Certificates of Ascertainment forwarded to the electors by the Governor must be attached to each of the six Certificates of Vote. Each of the six pairs of Certificates must be sealed and certified by the electors to be the list of votes of that State.

The six pairs of Certificates are distributed as follows:

Since there is a very short time between the meetings of the electors in the States and the counting of the electoral votes by Congress, and the meetings of electors coincides with the December holiday mail season, it is imperative that these Certificates be delivered as soon as possible. After the Certificates of Ascertainment and Certificates of Vote are delivered to the appropriate persons, the States' functions in the electoral process are completed.

© David Leip 2008 All Rights Reserved