Many people assume the winner of the U.S. presidential contest is determined once the media calls the race and the losing candidate delivers a concession speech.
But the truth is that formally declaring a presidential winner is a months-long process that won’t be completed until January.
That process essentially involves Americans voting for electors, the electors voting for the president, and then Congress declaring the winner.
“There’s Election Day, where those electors are elected; there’s the date in December where the electors meet and then vote for president; and then there’s the date in January where the Congress certifies that election,” says Amy Dacey, executive director of the Sine Institute of Policy and Politics at American University.
In addition to the Electoral College, certifying the winner of the presidential election involves the Senate, House of Representatives and the National Archives.
This process is the result of a compromise among the Founding Fathers, who weren’t convinced voters could be trusted to choose a worthy leader.
“This was first created because there wasn’t that confidence in the citizenry to make that decision,” Dacey says. “They didn’t believe the American people should directly choose the president and vice president, but they didn’t want to give Congress the sole power of selection, either.”