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How election results are certified

Local election officials announced the presidential election results for Massachusetts shortly after the polls closed on Tuesday, but this outcome will not be official for nearly two weeks.

Votes cast in Massachusetts elections undergo a weeks-long set of procedures to be certified. MIA KHATIB/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Once votes are cast, they must be certified to make sure all votes are correctly accounted for. 

Secretary of State spokesperson Debra O’Malley wrote in an email that local election officials have until Nov. 18 to certify results. The certification process cannot start until after Nov. 13, the last day the state can accept ballots postmarked by Election Day that arrive from overseas. 

After certification, local officials send the official tally to the Secretary of State.  

The governor and council must complete the ballots’ final certification after the results are checked for data entry errors, O’Malley wrote.

Certificates of the Vote, which officially give elected candidates the right to hold office, are then sent to Congress, which includes the sitting vice president — who serves as the tie-breaking president of the Senate — after members of the Electoral College formally cast their votes on Dec. 14.

Afterward, Congress will meet Jan. 6 to count electoral votes and certify the results. States will file their votes and, this election round, Vice President Mike Pence will preside over the count before announcing the final outcome.

The Senate will then certify the election results.

Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said the certification process ends the ballot-counting process.

“You have to have a final number,” Wilmot said. “And there has to be an official process by which that is vouched for.”

Alex Psilakis, policy and communications manager at MassVOTE, said the certification process proves especially important in close races, which happen more often at municipal levels. 

In Boston City Councilor Julia Mejia’s 2019 race, for example, she won by a single vote. Her win was certified and thus made official after the City accounted for mail-in votes and held a recount.

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s victory in Massachusetts was declared soon after polls closed Tuesday, but his win has not technically been certified. Psilakis said even in cases where a result seems obvious, the certification process remains important.

“It’s critical that elections are as accurate as they can be because that’s where change happens,” Psilakis said. “The last thing you want is for voters to feel as though their vote isn’t counted or it doesn’t matter.”

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