December 24, 2004

January 6th Procedures

Thanks to Glenn Sanders of MiaMedia Votergate Resource Center for his research in providing the following material:

Media Votergate Resources: Challenging the Electoral Vote

Source: -- (page 10)

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Congress Counts, Ascertains, and Declares the Vote.

The final step in the presidential election process (aside from the presidential inaugural on January 20) is the counting, ascertainment, and declaration of the electoral votes in Congress. (fn 12) The House of Representatives and Senate meet in joint session in the House chamber on January 6 of the year following the presidential election, at 1:00 P.M.(fn 13) No debate is allowed in the joint session. The Vice President, who presides in his capacity as President of the Senate, opens the electoral vote certificates from each state, in alphabetical order. He then passes the certificates to four tellers (vote counters), two appointed by each house, who announce the results. The votes are then counted, and the results are announced by the Vice President. The candidates receiving a majority of electoral votes (currently 270 of 538) are declared the winners by the Vice President, an action that constitutes “a sufficient declaration of the persons, if any, elected President and Vice President of the States” (3 U.S.C. 15).(fn 14)

Objections to State Electoral Vote Returns.(fn 15)

Objections may be offered to both individual electoral votes and state returns as a whole. Objections must be filed in writing, and be signed by one Senator and one Representative. If an objection is received, and determined to be valid, then the electoral vote count session is recessed. The Senate returns immediately to its chamber, and the two houses of Congress consider the objections separately. By law, these sessions cannot last more than two hours, and no member of either house may speak for more than five minutes. At the end of this period, the houses vote separately to agree or disagree with the objection. The Senate then returns to the House chamber, and the joint session reconvenes. The decisions of the two houses are announced. If both houses agree to the objection, then the electoral vote or votes in question are not counted. Otherwise, the vote or votes stand as submitted, and are counted as such.(fn 16)

(12) 3 U.S.C. 15-18.

(13) Congress occasionally sets a different date for the electoral vote count session, particularly in years when January 6 falls on a Sunday.

(14) If there is no majority, due to a tie or division of the electoral vote among three or more candidates, the President is elected in the House of Representatives, and the Vice President in the Senate by the contingent election process. For further information, see CRS Report RS20300, Election of the President and Vice President by Congress: Contingent Election, by Thomas H. Neale.

(15) 3 U.S.C. 15.

(16) For information on efforts to file objections to electoral vote returns from Florida at the 2001 electoral vote count session, please consult CRS congressional distribution memorandum, Congressional Objections to Electoral Votes for President, by Jack Maskell, available to Members of Congress and staff from the author.

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