Last update: 2017jan22
* (asterisk) indicates the earliest date Presidential Electors could be "appointed" in a State (whether by Popular Vote or not); in these Presidential Elections, the latest date such Electors could be chosen (presumably, by methods other than Popular Election, such as- for example- choice by the Legislature) was, of course, the date Electors were scheduled to cast their votes in any event.
A date in italics indicates that a date other than the statutorily-defined date was utilized due to special circumstances (as explained below this table).
Four times in American History a Tabulation Joint Session of Congress itself did not declare a person to be elected either President or Vice-President (or both) on the date on which it met: a list of these circumstances follows:
Election No. [for (N)th Administration]:
As is the case with Congresses of two years' duration each, Presidential Administrations of four years' duration- likewise- can be numbered (in fact, the number of a given four year "Administration" is half of the number of the later of the two Congresses in office during that Administration: for example, because it was the 110th Congress that was meeting during the last two years of President George W. Bush's second term, those four years of that term make up the 55th Administration [110/2 = 55]).
Although it is altogether unofficial, Presidential Elections can be numbered according to the number of the Administration of the President that has been elected therein (thus, the 2004 Presidential Election- which resulted in President George W. Bush being elected to a second term [again, the aforementioned 55th Adminstration]- was Presidential Election No. 55).
Date Presidential Electors "appointed" [Presidential Election]:
Each State shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of Electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress...
The "appointment" (to use the proper constitutional language, as seen above) of Presidential Electors is what ordinary Americans mean when we say 'Presidential Election' - even though many Americans are most unaware that they are really choosing a slate of Electors rather than, as they would describe what they are doing, "voting for President" (and- obviously, at the very same time- Vice President).
The Congress may determine the time of choosing the Electors...
Nowadays, this is the day United States citizens resident in the 50 constituent States of the Union and the District of Columbia who wish to vote in said Presidential Election (and are, indeed, eligible [and have registered] to do so) go to their respective polling places and cast their votes (although several States now permit Early Voting and, even apart from this, many Americans will vote by Absentee Ballot- in each case, actually casting votes well before this date [but their votes will not be counted until this date])- but, in the earliest days of the Federal Republic, it was merely the date- or dates- on which each State formally chose its Presidential Electors (whether such choice was by Popular Vote of the State citizenry or not-- not until 1836 did all but one State allow for Popular Vote for President [in reality, the People of the States "appointing"- to use the language found in the U.S. Constitution itself- their State's Presidential Electors thereby]).
What follows is the actual text of the regulations for said Presidential Election (again, this being the date Presidential Electors are to be "appointed") and the election years in which a given regulation was actually in effect:
...[T]he first Wednesday in January next be the day for appointing Electors in the several States...
1792 through 1844:
...[E]lectors shall be appointed in each State for the election of a President and Vice-President of the United States, withint thirty-four days preceding the first Wednesday in December, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-two, and within thirty-four days preceding the first Wednesday in December in every fourth year succeeding the last election, which Electors shall be equal to the number of Senators and Representatives, to which the several States may by Law be entitled at the time...
1848 to the present:
... [T]he Electors of President and Vice-President shall be appointed in each State on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November of the year in which they are to be appointed...
although the date of the Presidential Election itself was not at all changed, the verbiage in the relevant statute was later tweaked as follows:
The Electors of President and Vice President shall be appointed, in each State, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November, in every fourth year succeeding every election of a President and Vice President.
Date Electors cast their votes in the several States:
The Electors shall meet in their respective States and vote by ballot...
The Presidential Electors so "appointed"- nowadays, however indirectly, by vote of the People in each of the several States of the Union (and D.C.)- must later meet in each jurisdiction (note that- despite prevalent use of the term- there is no such thing as a single "Electoral College" all meeting together; rather, the Electors from each State [and D.C.] meet separately- thus, there are really 51 separate "electoral colleges") and cast their votes for President and Vice-President.
[The Congress may determine]... the day on which [the Electors] shall give their votes, which day shall be the same throughout the United States.
Even though they do meet separately, the Electors must meet on the very same day and the actual text of the regulations governing just which day is to be the date of these separate "electoral colleges"- along with the election years in which said regulations were in force- follow:
...[T]he first Wednesday in February next be the day for the Electors to assemble in their respective States and vote for a President...
1792 through 1884:
...[T]he Electors shall meet and give their votes on the... first Wednesday in December...
1888 through 1932:
...[T]he Electors of each State shall meet and give their votes on the second Monday in January next following their appointment...
1936 to the present:
The Electors of President and Vice President of each State shall meet and give their votes on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December next following their appointment
Date Electoral Vote tabulated by a Joint Session of Congress:
...The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates [containing the Electoral Vote from each jurisdiction], and the votes shall then be counted...
Even with the Presidential Electors having met and fufilled their constitutional obligations, a President (or, for that matter, Vice President) of the United States is not officially elected unless and until the Congress of the United States says he or she is. In this regard (and despite the oft-heard claim that the U.S. Supreme Court "really" elected George W. Bush President back in 2000), Congress is- more or less- the "umpire" or "referee" in any and all Presidential Elections.
A Joint Session of Congress counts and tabulates the Electoral Vote sent to it by the "electoral colleges" in the several States and the District of Columbia (thus, this meeting of the Federal legislature is colloquially referred to as the "Tabulation Joint Session") and then- assuming, of course, that a candidate has received a majority of the total Electoral Vote- officially declares just who has been elected President (and Vice President).
As with the dates of the Presidential Election (that is, "appointing" of the Electors) and the several "electoral colleges" themselves, the date on which Congress holds this Tabulation Joint Session is also regulated by statute. What follows is the actual text of such regulations (and, again, the elections for which they were in effect):
... [T]he first Wednesday in March be the time... for commencing proceedings under the... Constitution.
1792 through 1872; 1880 through 1932:
... Congress shall be in session on the second Wednesday in February, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three, and on the second Wednesday in February succeeding every meeting of the Electors, and the certificates [containing the Electoral Vote from each jurisdiction]... shall then be opened, the votes counted, and the persons who shall fill the offices of President and Vice-President ascertained and declared, agreeably to the Constitution.
...[T]he Senate and House of Representatives shall meet... on the first Thursday in February, anno Domini eighteen hundred and seventy-seven...
It became apparent, well before the Tabulation Joint Session of Congress following this Presidential Election (that is, the "appointing" of Electors by the People of the several States via the ballot) was scheduled to meet on 14 February 1877, that something was terribly wrong with the Electoral Vote coming out of the meetings of more than a few "electoral colleges" held on 6 December 1876: not only would the Electoral Vote be altogether close (as could be easily discerned from the reports of the Popular Returns in each State as already published in newspapers around the Nation) but at least three States in the South (this still being the era of post-Civil War Reconstruction) were sending two sets of Electoral Votes- one in favor of each Major Party presidential candidate- to Congress. To make matters worse, one of these Major Parties controlled one house of the (in those days, it was the outgoing ["lame duck"]) Congress, while the other Party controlled the other (so there was no possibility of a mere Party line vote in Congress electing one Party's candidate President in any event).
To this end, Congress quickly passed legislation (it was signed into law by outgoing President Ulysses S. Grant on 29 January 1877) completely bypassing the whole, more usual, process of Electoral Vote counting, instead requiring Congress to hold what would otherwise be the normal Tabulation Joint Session early- in this case, on 1 February 1877- to discern just which States were in dispute and then formally handing such disputes over to a so-called "Electoral Commission" consisting of Senators, Congressmen and U.S. Supreme Court Justices appointed to the task by Congress itself (the earlier-than-usual meeting of Congress in Tabulation Joint Session was intended to buy the Electoral Commission more time [an extra fortnight] in which to resolve these disputes, for there was ever a looming deadline of 4 March 1877, on which date a new President- whoever it turned out to be- would have to take office [if only because, by a combination of constitutional fiat and Federal statute, President Grant's term ended- no matter what!- on that very date]).
... [after the Electoral Commission has determined which Electors' vote shall be officially counted in each of the disputed States] the two houses shall again meet, and such decision [of the Electoral Commission] shall be read and entered in the journal of each House, and the counting of the [Electoral] votes shall proceed in conformity therewith...
Congress, thus, would have to hold a "follow-up" Joint Session after the Electoral Commission had reported its decision as regarded each State re: which its Electoral Vote was in dispute and the last such Joint Session to count and tabulate a disputed State's Electoral Vote as decided by the Electoral Commission was held on 2 March 1877, just two days before the new President thereby elected [Rutherford B. Hayes] would constitutionally take office (interestingly, Hayes was not publicly inaugurated until 5 March 1877 because 4 March- the date on which, at the time, a newly-elected Congress as well as a newly-elected President took office- happened to fall on a Sunday that year; however, because the 1876 Presidential Election dispute had been so politically charged [the vote of the Electoral Commission itself had been along Party lines, 8-7 in favor of the Republican Electors, in all disputed cases], there were actual fears of a coup d'etat instigated by supporters of Tilden! Thus, Hayes was first sworn in privately, at the White House on the invitation of outgoing President Grant, on the evening of Saturday 3 March [it also didn't help that neither Constitution nor statute made clear just when, on 4 March, the President actually took office; inaugurating the President during the day was traditional but there was an argument to be made that his Term of Office, as well as those of Congressmen and newly elected or re-elected U.S. Senators- had actually begun at Midnight Local Mean Time in Washington (Standard Time was still a decade away in 1877): to this end, an outgoing Congress- never all that sure it had any authority to act early on a given 4 March- always adjourned sine die no later than 3 March... it is for this very reason that the 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution- which moved up the beginnings of terms of members of Congress to 3 January and the term of a President to 20 January- purposely makes clear that terms of office begin- and end- at Noon in the Nation's Capital (now on Eastern Standard Time, of course)]).
1936 to the present:
Congress shall be in session on the sixth day of January succeeding every meeting of the Electors... [and] all the certificates and papers purporting to be certificates of the electoral votes... shall be opened, presented, and acted upon...
There have been, since the 1936 Presidential Election, six exceptions to 6 January being the date for the Tabulation Joint Session: two of these were merely because 6 January happened to fall on a Sunday- in 1957 and 1985- and, in each such case, the Tabulation Joint Session was held on the following day (thus, these do not appear in italics in the table above).
Four other cases, however, were expressly permitted by statute:
[I]n carrying out the procedure set forth in section 15 of Title 3, United States Code, for 1989, `the fourth day of January' shall be substituted for `the sixth day of January' in the first sentence of such section.
The meeting of the Senate and House of Representatives to be held in January 1997 pursuant to section 15 of Title 3, United States Code, to count the electoral votes for President and Vice President cast by the electors in December 1996 shall be held on January 9, 1997 (rather than on the date specified in the first sentence of that section).
The meeting of the Senate and House of Representatives to be held in
January 2009 pursuant to section 15 of title 3, United States Code, to
count the electoral votes for President and Vice President cast by the
electors in December 2008 shall be held on January 8, 2009 (rather than
on the date specified in the first sentence of that section).
The meeting of the Senate and House of Representatives
to be held in January 2013 pursuant to section 15 of title 3, United
States Code, to count the electoral votes for President and Vice President
cast by the electors in December 2012 shall be held on January 4, 2013
(rather than on the date specified in the first sentence of that
126 Stat. 1610 (adopted 28 December 2012)--
In these four cases immediately above, the date of the Tabulation Joint Session does appear in italics in the table.