Certifying Election Results

Elections are far from over at the close of polling on Election Day. After everyone’s cast their ballots, we still have a ways to go before election results are finalized and made official. In this post, we take a brief look at how and when presidential election results (from the general election) are certified.

From Ballot to President

US elections are unique and full of complexities. As you may have read in our recent Civics 101: The Presidential Election Process post:

  • The US has indirect elections for the offices of President and Vice President.
  • Start to finish, there are a lot of people and activities involved in an election.
  • The timeline for an election doesn’t end until the President-elect and Vice-President-elect take their Oath of Office on Inauguration Day.

You, your vote and Election Day are just the beginning. Many of the people and processes that move the election process forward — to fruition — come into play after November 3.

To provide a bit of clarity, though, here are the steps (with key dates) that end with a certified presidential candidate:

  1. You vote. By closing of polls on November 3, 2020
  2. Your state begins tallying all the votes.
  3. Your state choses its electors for the Electoral College. November 3, 2020
  4. Your state certifies its popular vote results via a document called the Certificate of Ascertainment. This doc also identifies the state’s chosen electors. November 4, 2020-December 14, 2020
  5. Your state’s electors cast their votes by creating and signing a document called the Certificate of Votes. These docs list the electors who cast their votes for the President and Vice President and also certify those electoral votes. December 14, 2020
  6. Copies of the Certificates of Votes and Certificates of Ascertainment are sent to the President of the Senate, your state’s Secretary of State, the Archivist of the United States and the judge of the district in which the electors assembled. December 14, 2020-December 23, 2020
  7. Congress convenes to count the certified electoral votes. January 6, 2021
  8. Assuming there are no issues or objections, Congress declares the winners of the presidential/vice presidential race. (This is what you might think of as the “results” being “finalized” and “made official.”) January 6, 2021
  9. The President-elect and Vice President-elect are inaugurated. January 20, 2021

tl;dr

Your vote is just the start of the electoral process. The closing of the polls on Election Day simply marks the end of the voting stage. The actual selection of the President and Vice President begins after Election Day.

Through a series of processes involving official representatives (e.g., electors and congressional members) and many rules and regulations, the President-elect and Vice President-elect are chosen and declared. Barring any snags along the way, the process culminates with Inauguration Day and a freshly sworn-in President and Vice President.