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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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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