Though there are significant real-world scenarios to consider, let's keep this question hypothetical.

The situation: a US presidential election is held, votes are tallied, a winner is announced, the losing candidate concedes to the winning candidate, the winner is sworn in and they move into the White House. For some reason it is then found that the tally is incorrect. Key counties in swing states were found to have initially reported incorrect numbers. The differences in tallies are enough to have swung those states to the opposing candidate, and thus the the electoral count would have favored the opposing candidate.

It's understood that the electorates did the real voting and this situation still doesn't change the tally of the electoral vote.

However the group of electorates are sent from a given state is determined by which party held the majority of votes for the state. Therefore, a vote tally error at the state level in this situation results in an entirely wrong group of electorates being sent from that state. Those representatives technically were not the ones chosen to cast the electoral votes for that state.

What's the most extreme situation that could arise from such a scenario? Could an election be invalidated or are we stuck with a person once they move into the White House?

  • Another real-world scenario is the 2000 election, where the (in)famous "butterfly ballot" used in one Florida county was widely seen as defective (by accident, not on purpose) and leading to wrongly marked ballots. In the end the count was accepted as-is, though, and George W. Bush won the election almost certainly due to this ballot design.
    – user11249
    Jun 7, 2017 at 22:06
  • Electors, not electorates.
    – Golden Cuy
    Jun 8, 2017 at 0:30

2 Answers 2


I would have to say "no," for the specific reason that the actual, binding vote that determines the president is the vote taken by the Electoral College (more accurately, per Mark in comments, Congress voting to accept the Electoral College vote), as you noted.

States declare their results to be official, even if wrong, and even then, the electors are not bound by anything more than good faith to cast their vote that specific way. There is no specifically binding link that would force the Electoral College tally to be thrown out for, say, changed results from Cook County (Chicago) and Wayne County (Detroit).

The fact that, in Bush v Gore, SCOTUS stopped a statewide count in Florida because they felt it would not finish in time for Florida to meet their deadline for choosing electors for the Electoral College would set precedent (even though they said it was such a special ruling that no one could claim precedent in subsequent cases based on it) of the Electoral College logistics and normal process taking priority over having a confirmed, most accurate result of popular vote tallies, if those counts could not be done expeditiously enough to meet the normal timelines.

There really is no "do-over" mechanism spelled out in the Constitution. If a sworn-in president would be shown to have had a hand in shennanigans, certainly that would qualify as reason for impeachment (the specific criteria for what someone can be impeached for was left very open-ended and vague in the Constitution), but popular sentiment would have to be such that politicians for that president's party would feel threatened enough to put aside partisan wagon-circling for doing what's right (in other words, in the current state of US politics, no chance at all).

Or, if a president did not have a hand in it and was highly ethical, they could step down, but that would only put their running mate into power. It would have to be the supremely implausible scenario of the sitting president having the VP resign, appointing the losing presidential candidate to be the new VP, and then resigning, in order for it to be a voluntary "righting of wrongs," I'd think.

This is why it has to be done as best as possible up-front. Transparent, fair, accessible election processes, with challenge and re-count provisions that are equally so, are so vitally important.

  • Actually, the binding vote is the decision by Congress to accept the Electoral College votes.
    – Mark
    Jun 8, 2017 at 2:06

There is a vote on election day. The announced results of that vote are used to select the electors. The electors then vote for a president and vice-president. The results are sent to Congress, which counts them between taking office and inauguration day. Once Congress has certified the results and the vice-president and president have been sworn in, it's done.

The intention is that Congress is supposed to review the election results before certifying them. The time to do such an investigation is before that, not after. In theory, if Congress invalidated enough votes, then Congress would select the president and vice-president. Congress has rarely exercised that ability.

There's a similar problem on election day. If someone votes who is not allowed, there is no way to cancel that person's vote. The problem is that we don't know how they voted. So once they cast their votes, it's set.

The main problem is that we can't really tell if spoiled votes changed the election or not. For example, in 2000, we can reasonably surmise that votes that were intended for Al Gore went to Pat Buchanan instead. But we can't prove it, and no matter how many recounts they did, they couldn't show it.

The recounts weren't looking for the actual problem. They were trying different ways to count spoiled ballots in the hope that one might match the result that they wanted. Their first attempt failed. Their second attempt would have failed (they finished it after it didn't matter), but the Supreme Court canceled it. The problem being that there wasn't a significant difference in the number of spoiled ballots favoring Gore versus those favoring Bush. So most recount methods gave the same result, and they didn't find the one that didn't until well after the election.

Anyway the point is that the process is not well suited to being fixed after the fact. So even if they were somehow were able to prove that someone falsified the votes after inauguration, there is no provision for changing things at that time.

Even if the results were contested prior to certification, it often wouldn't matter. For example, in 2016, the Republican candidate won the presidency, and Republicans controlled a majority of the state delegations in the House of Representatives. So if Congress hadn't certified the results, they probably would have chosen the same candidate.

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