Presidential Electors Must Be Chosen Before Election Day

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A line of people raising their right hands.
19th Dec, 2016. Texas electors to the U.S. Electoral College meet at the Texas Capitol to cast votes. Photo by Bob Daemmrich/Alamy Live News.

Trevor Potter, president of Campaign Legal Center (CLC), recently participated in the National Task Force on Election Crises panel “What Happens Next: Election Task Force Experts Detail Key Flashpoints” where he explained the procedures and deadlines in place that will allow voters’ voices to be heard in the November election.

In the period immediately after Election Day, anxiety-producing rhetoric is likely to lead to headlines that diminish confidence in the process. To restore people’s faith, Potter is reminding voters that for more than a century, all fifty states have followed the basic principle of American democracy that elections are decided by the people.

The presidential electors of the Electoral College are apportioned based on who wins the popular vote in each state.

Under a federal law known as the Electoral Count Act (ECA), this means choosing electors prior to Election Day and resolving any disputes over electors by the safe harbor deadline, which is six days before the Electoral College convenes. In 2020, the safe harbor deadline is set for Dec 8., and Dec. 14 is when the electors cast their votes.

These dates are both set by Congress. Any state’s failure to comply with these deadlines means that the state would lose its safe harbor protections. Congress could then decide which electors from that state count, without mandatory deference to the preferences of the state’s voters or legislature.

Additionally, Congress will meet to certify the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, and the current presidential term must end at noon on Jan. 20, as specified by the U.S. Constitution.

While a concession call from the loser to the winner of the presidential election is expected, it is a tradition, not a legal requirement for the outcome to count.

Regardless of who wins or loses the election when all is said and done, the most important thing is that votes are counted fairly and accurately and that the candidate chosen by the voters is elected. We have a duty as Americans to ensure that every vote is counted and accept the results even if the candidate we supported does not win.

Watch the full video.

As CLC's communications assistant, Georgia writes and edits content for the website.