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US Post-Election Calendar: Plenty of Activity Before Presidential Inauguration

In the U.S. presidential election, following the November 2 popular vote, there are steps that must be taken before the January 20 inauguration. From Washington, VOA's Michael Bowman reports on the United States' post-election political calendar.

Some nations install leaders within a few days of a national election. Not so the United States. Just over 11 weeks will have gone by between the day Americans voted and the day the next presidential term begins. In the interim, an institution known as the Electoral College swings into action.

Established by the second article of the U.S. Constitution, and modified years later by the 12th constitutional amendment, the Electoral College is a body of 538 electors, divided among the 50 states, plus the nation's capital. Each state gets the same number of electors as the total number of legislators it sends to both houses of Congress. California, America's most populous state, has 55 electoral votes, while sparsely-populated Alaska has only three. With rare exception, the candidate who wins the popular vote in any state gets all the electoral votes of that state.

Thus, when Americans cast ballots for president, they are actually voting for statewide electors of a particular party affiliation who, in turn, are pledged to vote for the presidential candidate who won the state.

Individual states may have different deadlines for certifying vote totals. But final results for all states must be known by December 13. That is the day when Electoral College participants meet in their respective state capitals and vote for the president and vice president. The collective result, known as the Certificate of Vote, is sent to Congress.

A special joint session of Congress will be convened on January 6, 2005. The Certificate of Vote will be read, and the official winner of the election declared. In the event that no candidate possesses an absolute majority of electoral votes - a situation that has occurred only once in U.S. history, in 1824 - the House of Representatives picks the president, and the Senate chooses the vice president.

Other than 1824, Americans have known who their next president would be long before the Electoral College performs its duties. The weeks leading up to the January 20 inauguration have allowed new presidents to tap Cabinet nominees and incumbent presidents to chart out a course for the second term.