OFR prepares Electoral College instructional materials for the Governors of the 50 States and the Mayor of the District of Columbia. Learn more about the materials
Under the 23rd Amendment of the Constitution, the District of Columbia is allocated three electors and treated like a State for purposes of the Electoral College. For this reason, in the following discussion, the word “State” also refers to the District of Columbia and the word “Governor” also refers to the Mayor of the District of Columbia.
During the general election your vote helps determine your State's electors. When you vote for a Presidential candidate, you aren't actually voting for President. You are telling your State which candidate you want your State to vote for at the meeting of the electors. The States use these general election results (also known as the popular vote) to appoint their electors. The winning candidate's State political party selects the individuals who will be the electors.
After the presidential election, the Governor of your State prepares seven Certificates of Ascertainment. “As soon as practicable,” after the election results in your State are certified, the Governor sends one of those original Certificates of Ascertainment to the Archivist.
States must make final decisions in any controversies over the appointment of their electors at least six days before the meeting of the electors. This is so their electoral votes will be presumed valid when presented to Congress. Decisions by States’ courts are conclusive, if decided under laws enacted before Election Day.
The electors meet in their respective States and vote for President and Vice President on separate ballots. The electors record their votes on six Certificates of Vote, which are paired with the six remaining Certificates of Ascertainment. The electors sign, seal, and certify six sets of electoral votes. A set of electoral votes consists of one Certificate of Ascertainment and one Certificate of Vote.
Electoral votes (the Certificates of Vote) must be received by the President of the Senate and the Archivist no later than nine days after the meeting of the electors. If votes are lost or delayed, the Archivist may take extraordinary measures to retrieve duplicate originals.
Congress meets in joint session to count the electoral votes. The Vice President, as President of the Senate, presides over the count and announces the results of the Electoral College vote. The President of the Senate then declares which persons, if any, have been elected President and Vice President of the United States.
If any objections to the electoral votes are made, they must be submitted in writing and be signed by at least one member of the House and one Senator. If objections are presented, the House and Senate withdraw to their respective chambers to consider the merits of the objection(s) under procedures set out in Federal law.
If no Presidential candidate wins at least 270 electoral votes (a majority of the 538 available votes), under the 12th Amendment to the Constitution the House of Representatives decides the Presidential election. If necessary, the House would elect the President by majority vote, choosing from among the three candidates who received the greatest number of electoral votes. The vote would be taken by State, with each State having one vote. (The District of Columbia does not vote because it doesn't have voting members in the House of Representatives.)
If no Vice Presidential candidate wins at least 270 electoral votes (a majority or the 538 available votes), under the 12th Amendment the Senate elects the Vice President. If necessary, the Senate would elect the Vice President by majority vote, choosing between the two candidates who received the greatest number of electoral votes. Each Senator would have one vote.
The President-elect takes the Oath of Office and becomes the President of the United States.
Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration
Taken from: http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/key-dates.html