The Daily Beast
Who Actually Declares the Winner of This Election?
By Amy Dacey, The ConversationWith the U.S. presidential election rapidly approaching at a time of extraordinary political and social disruption, the possibility of an unclear or contested result is coming under scrutiny.Unlike many other countries, where the president or prime minister is chosen by direct popular vote, in the U.S., a candidate may win the popular vote and still not be elected to the nation’s highest office. The U.S. also differs from most other democracies in that it has no independent electoral commission to certify the final vote count.So who actually confirms the winner? Step 1: Before Election DayAmerican democracy has many elected officials—state, local and national—and many processes for getting into office.I have been working on election campaigns since I was 8 years old, when my dad ran for school board and I went door to door asking people to vote for him. I’ve also worked on local, congressional, senate and presidential races and now direct an academic research center on politics.What’s striking is that every race is different, from deadlines and filing process to certification. Here, I’ll focus here on the presidential race.The unusual and complicated presidential election certification process in the U.S. entwines all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the Senate, House of Representatives, the National Archives and the Office of the Federal Register. It also involves the Electoral College—a uniquely American institution that convenes in 51 separate locations once every four years to pick the president.This four-month process was custom designed as a compromise by the Founding Fathers, who did not believe the American people should directly choose the president and vice president but did not want to give Congress the power of selection, either.What if Trump Won’t Leave the White House?The Constitution declares that American presidential elections occur on the first Tuesday in November, every four years. But the federal election process actually begins in October, when the Archivist of the United States—a presidential appointee responsible for maintaining the government’s most important official documents—sends a letter to the governor of each state.The document outlines their responsibilities regarding the Electoral College, which is not a place but a process by which electors—people who are chosen by their party—vote for their party’s presidential candidate.The machinery of the Electoral College is complicated, but in short Americans vote for electors and the electors vote for the president. Then, the winner is Step 2: After Election DayNot quite.Once a final tally of voters’ in-person, mail-in and provisional ballots has been concluded, all 50 governors prepare their state’s Certificate of Ascertainment, a document listing their electors for the competing candidates.Each state completes that process at its own rate. This year, because of the pandemic, finalizing the electoral vote count will likely take a lot longer. Once completed, copies of the Certificate of Ascertainment are then submitted to the U.S. Archivist.After the governor submits names to the Archivist, each state’s Electoral College electors meet in the state capital—D.C.‘s meet