The Electoral Count Mess: The Electoral Count Act of 1887 Is Unconstitutional, and Other Fun Facts (Plus a Few Random Academic Speculations) about Counting Electoral Votes
41 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2021 Last revised: 11 Mar 2021
Date Written: March 1, 2021
In this essay, and in light of the controversy that arose in the wake of the 2020 presidential election, we explain the constitutional process for counting electoral votes. In short, every four years, the Twelfth Amendment requires the President of the Senate (usually the Vice President of the United States) to open certificates provided by state presidential electors and count the votes contained therein. The Constitution allows no role for Congress in this process, and thus, the provisions of the Electoral Count Act purporting to grant Congress the power, by concurrent resolution, to reject a state’s electoral votes, is unconstitutional. Further, the objections raised to two states’ electoral votes on January 6, 2021, were not proper within the terms of the Act, and therefore, even if Congress has the power specified in the Act, congressional action rejecting states’ electoral votes would have been contrary to law. While state executive or state judicially-ordered departures from the requirements of state election laws in presidential elections might violate the federal Constitution’s requirement that electors be chosen as specified by state legislatures, determining whether this has taken place is much more complicated than simply examining the language of state election statutes. We suggest that making this determination requires a careful examination of state interpretation traditions that we decline to undertake in this brief essay on the constitutional process for counting electoral votes.
Keywords: presidential elections, electoral college, electoral votes, separation of powers
JEL Classification: K19
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation