North Carolina in the Electoral College

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Robert Joyce

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Most North Carolinians understand that when we mark our ballots for Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan or George Bush or Barak Obama for President, we are not in fact voting for those candidates.  We are, instead, voting for a small set of “electors” who will cast the state’s official votes in the election of the President in the nation’s Electoral College.  But how does that really work?  There are 28 steps, start to finish.

Nomination of Electors

1.  Each party in a statewide convention (or otherwise as the plan of organization of the party may provide) nominates 15 electors (one from each Congressional district and two at-large) and two alternates.  Unaffiliated candidates nominate their own.  GS 163-1 (“GS” refers to North Carolina state statutes.)

2.  The names of the nominated electors are filed with the North Carolina Secretary of State.  GS 163-209

Election of Electors

3.  The election is held in November.  GS 163-1;  3 USC § 1 (“USC” refers to federal statutes.)

4.  The names of the electors do not appear on the ballot.  Instead, the names of the candidates for President and Vice-President appear on the ballot.  GS 163-209, GS 163-165.5.  Each voter has one vote for President and Vice-President together.

5.  Voting for a Presidential candidate is really voting for the electors.  The statute says, “A vote for the candidates named on the ballot shall be a vote for the electors of the party or unaffiliated candidate by which those candidates were nominated and whose names have been filed with the Secretary of State.”  GS 163-209

Certification of Election of the Electors

6.  The State Board of Elections receives reports of the election results from all 100 county boards of elections and conducts an official review, called the canvass, 10 days after the election.  After its canvass, the State Board issues a certificate of election naming the electors who have been elected and sends it to the North Carolina Secretary of State.  GS 163-182.5, –182.6, and –182.15

7.  The Secretary of State then “under seal of the office, shall notify the Governor of the names of the persons elected to the office of elector for President and Vice-President of the United States” as shown in the report from the State Board of Elections.  GS 163-210

8.  The Governor sends to each elector and to the Archivist of the United States “Certificates of Ascertainment, under the great seal of the State setting forth the names of the persons chosen as presidential electors for this State and the number of votes cast for each.”  GS 163-210;  3 USC § 6

Calling the Meeting of the Electors

9.  The Governor “immediately” issues a proclamation “setting forth the names of the electors and instructing them to be present in the old Hall of the House of Representatives in the State Capitol in the City of Raleigh at noon on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December next after their election.”  The Governor publishes the proclamation in “the daily newspapers published in the City of Raleigh” and elsewhere as he or she chooses.  The North Carolina Secretary of State makes the arrangements for the meeting of the electors.  GS 163-210;  3 USC § 7

10.  For the meeting, electors are paid $44 a day and $0.17 per mile.  GS 163-211

Use of Alternates and Filling Vacancies

11.  Electors may resign any time up to 48 hours after they receive their certificates.  An elector who does not resign is consenting to serve.  GS 163-210

12.  An elector who fails to attend the meeting is deemed to have resigned.  GS 163-212

13.  If electors resign, the first and then the second alternate fill the vacancies.  If vacancies remain then the electors at the meeting “shall forthwith elect from the citizens of the State a sufficient number of persons to fill the deficiency, and the persons chosen shall be deemed qualified electors to vote for President and Vice-President of the United States.”  GS 163-210

Special Provisions In Rare Case Where Election of Electors is Under Contest

14.  Federal law contains two provisions that become effective if for some reason the proclamation by the Governor declaring the names of the newly-elected electors is delayed.

  • The first provision says that if in any state the November election does not result in the election of electors, then the electors may be appointed “in such manner as the legislature of such State may direct.”  3 UCS § 2
  • The second provision says that if a state has in place before the November election a procedure for making a final determination in any contest of the election of electors, and the determination under that procedure is made at least six days before the December meeting of electors, then the determination “shall be conclusive.”  3 USC § 5

15.  The North Carolina General Assembly in 2001, in response to these federal law provisions and in reaction to the election problems in Florida in 2000, passed a statute governing the selection of electors in a case where the Governor has not by proclamation named electors.  In Florida, court challenges to the election result made it appear that the election of the electors might not be finalized in time for the meeting of the Electoral College.  North Carolina’s statute, GS 163-213, provides:

  • If, by the sixth day before the electors are to meet, the election of electors has not been certified by the State Board of Elections (or for some other reason the Governor has not issued the proclamation declaring the names of the electors), then the General Assembly, meeting in special session, may name the electors.
  • If for any reason the General Assembly has not done so by the day before the electors are to meet, then the Governor may name the electors.
  • In any case in which the General Assembly or the Governor are naming the electors, then they are to name electors “in accord with their best judgment of the will of the electorate, and that judgment is not subject to judicial review.”

Voting by Electors; Obligation to Vote for Party’s Candidate

16.  At the meeting of the electors, each elector votes separately for President and Vice-President.  U.S. Constitution Amendment XII

17.  By the fact of not resigning, each elector is consenting to vote for the candidates of the political party which nominated the elector (or the unaffiliated candidate who nominated the elector).  GS 163-210

18.  If an elector refuses to vote for the candidate of his or her party (or unaffiliated candidate), that refusal constitutes a resignation from the office of elector.  A vacancy is created and is to be filled by the process described above.  GS 163-212

Reporting the Votes of North Carolina’s Electors

19.  After voting, the electors count the votes and make up certificates.  3 USC § 9

20.  The electors distribute the certificates:

  • one to the President of the United States Senate (that is, the sitting Vice-President of the United States);
  • two to the North Carolina Secretary of State;
  • two to the Archivist of the United States;  and
  • one to a federal judge for the district that includes Raleigh.  3 USC § 11

Counting the Votes of All the Electors of the Nation

21.  The United States House of Representatives and Senate meet jointly on January 6, with the President of the Senate (that is, the Vice-President of the United States) presiding.  The votes of all states are counted.  3 USC § 15

22.  The President of the Senate announces the vote total, and his or her announcement “shall be deemed a sufficient declaration of the persons, if any, elected President and Vice-President of the United States.”  3 USC § 15

Considering Objections to the Votes by Particular Electors

23.  The House and the Senate then separately consider any objections lodged by members of Congress to the consideration of any particular electoral votes.  The procedure for resolving such objections is elaborate.  3 USC § 15-18

Majority Needed to Win

24.  If a candidate receives votes equal to a majority of the Electoral College for President, that candidate is elected.  Same for Vice-President.  U.S. Constitution Amendment XII

Choosing the Winner if No Candidate Receives a Majority

25.  If no candidate for President receives a majority of the electoral vote, then the House of Representatives “shall choose immediately, by ballot, the president,” voting among the three highest vote-getters in the electoral vote.  U.S. Constitution Amendment XII

26.  In that House of Representatives vote, each state gets one vote, and it takes 26 votes to win.  U.S. Constitution Amendment XII

27.  If the House fails to choose a President by January 20, then the Vice-President-elect serves as President until a President is chosen. U.S. Constitution Amendment XX

28.  If no candidate for Vice-President receives a majority of the electoral vote, then the Senate chooses a Vice-President, choosing between the two highest vote-getters.  Each Senator gets one vote.  It takes 51 to win. U.S. Constitution Amendment XII

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