Electoral College documents in Indianapolis court

December 7, 2012
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Those of you who paid attention in government classes or have a nose for history may already know the role the U.S. District Courts play with Electoral College Documents. I recently learned that a court in each state is required to house a set of Electoral College documents for safekeeping.

In Indiana, that court is the Indianapolis courthouse in the Southern District of Indiana. The requirement goes back to an 1847 act of Congress and typically the documents are held in the nearest U.S. District Court to the state capitals. The documents are a certificate of ascertainment and the other is the final vote and is signed by the electors who took part.

Doria Lynch, the court historian for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, invited me over to the Indianapolis courthouse to take a look at the documents, which date back to 1924.
 Lynch isn’t sure why the court doesn’t have any documents from before that year. She also said the court hasn’t received this year’s election documents yet.

Lynch showed me the certificates Thursday afternoon. She even had the original envelopes used to mail the documents to the court. It was interesting to see not only how the forms and signatures changed and evolved as the years have gone by, but you could also see how Indiana’s Electoral College votes shrank from 15 in 1924 to the current 11. Click here to see the electoral college document choosing Franklin D. Roosevelt and John Garner.

(Please forgive the somewhat blurry photos of the documents I snapped while looking through them. I hope they give you an idea of what the forms look like.)

What’s the reason the courts are involved? To make sure there was a backup in case the originals were lost or invalidated. Forget email and fax machines, those documents used to be carried on horseback and by carriage, according to Miriam Vincent, staff attorney for the National Archives and Records Administration. She discussed the role the courts play in the Electoral College process in a news release from the United States Courts.

The 51 designated courts are required to keep the documents in a safe place. Under federal record disposition guidelines for the U.S. District courts, the courts may dispose of the documents six months after their date of issuance. The courts have never been asked to produce the backup versions.


“There is still a need to do things on paper, and there is still a need for redundancy,” Vincent said of the Electoral College certificates. “Some may see this as a relic of the 19th century, but the truth is that it’s worked since 1847. Congress has enough other things to focus on that I don’t know of any idea to monkey around with this at this point.”

Electors cast their votes Dec. 17 and the final tallies of the Electoral College will be ratified before a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6.  

 




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