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CRS – How Can the Results of a Presidential Election Be Contested?

CRS Reports & Analysis Legal Sidebar – How Can the Results of a Presidential Election Be Contested?, August 26, 2016.
“In the midst of the presidential campaign season, the possibility of election fraud has been raised. This discussion briefly examines how the results of a presidential election may be contested. Although it has national impact, the presidential election is in essence 50 state and District of Columbia elections for presidential electors, held on the same day throughout the country. Therefore—and consistent with the states’ traditional authority over the administration of elections within their jurisdictions—states have the initial responsibility for resolving challenges, recounts, and contests to the results of a presidential election. Specifically, the Electoral Count Act of 1887, as amended, contemplates that contests and challenges to the vote for presidential electors are to be initially handled in the states. Codified in part at 3 U.S.C. § 5 , the law provides that if a contest or challenge in a state to the election or appointment of presidential electors is resolved in that state before the sixth day prior to the meeting of the electors, such determination shall be “conclusive” and shall “govern” when Congress counts the electoral votes as directed by the Twelfth Amendment. The Supreme Court has referred to this as the “safe harbor” provision. This year, the presidential electors are scheduled to meet on December 19. Six days prior is December 13, which therefore, will be the last day for the states to make a final determination in order for it to be conclusive when Congress counts the votes…”

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