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. He TIL team,please zap this comment too since it was merely marking a scammer and not reflecting on the story. Thanks, happy Monday, keep up the fine work.

  2. You just need my social security number sent to your Gmail account to process then loan, right? Beware scammers indeed.

  3. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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