In elections, all voters collectively decide on a person to fill an office. An election is a process which includes registration, nomination, voting, and the manner in which the votes are to be counted and the result made known[i]. The board of election overseeing elections counts all ballots cast and certifies the results of an election. The board of election after completing the canvass of the election returns determines and declares the results of the elections. The result must be declared on the date and at the hour and place specified in the notice of election.
The canvass of election returns consists of the opening and examination of ballots. A statement return shows the result of the election within the territorial unit composed of the smaller units. The canvass is made by the State Board of Elections, where the result can be officially known. The term canvass means to examine in detail. The election process is subject to scrutiny or investigation. Usually, the county canvassing board and the state board of elections canvassed the returns of the primary election.
The declaration of the election result conveys to the voters the person they have selected for office. Additionally, through declaration, an elected candidate knows that s/he is entitled to the office[ii]. An election declaration constitutes conclusive evidence of the election and title of the holder to the office until reversed or set aside by a court[iii].
The legislature provides the manner in which the result of an election shall be determined and declared. When a statute provides the process by which to hold an election, the statute is to be strictly obeyed. The statutes impose on the board of canvassers or other designated officer the duty of declaring the result of the election. Additionally, the board of canvassers issues a certificate of election. Usually, state laws prescribe the form by which to declare results. A certificate of election is a formal document that grants the holder the rights and privileges of holding elected office[iv]. The form of certificate is generally laid down in each statute. However, irregularity in form is not a sufficient ground to declare an election void. Such declaration shall be in writing and shall be signed by at least a majority of the members of the board. A declaration must bear the date of the day upon which it is made. Additionally, the board must post a copy of declaration in a conspicuous place in its office. The board shall keep such copy posted for a period of at least five days. The particulars regarding the form and particulars differ with each state.
The duty of declaring the result of an election and of issuing a certificate of election officials rests with the county board of elections. A certificate of election is conclusive as to the result of an election until set aside or vacated by law. Additionally, a declaration is not subject to collateral attack[v].
Generally, a candidate’s receipt of a certificate of election precludes the court from inquiring into the real facts. However, the declaration of the board of elections of the result of an election as judicially determined and the certificate issued are not conclusive. The declaration is taken as prima facie accurate[vi]. “The certificate of election is merely prima facie evidence as to the result. In a proper proceeding, the authorities may go behind the certificate and ascertain the real facts”[vii]. Moreover, in the case of a direct contest or proceeding, the relator can go behind the certificate. The court is empowered to correct mistakes of the canvassing officers. However, court cannot go behind their returns and receive evidence as to identification of voters.
The declared result is known to the public by promulgation. Promulgation is to make known or to announce officially and formally, the result to the public[viii]. In general, the purpose of promulgation is to give notice[ix]. In most states, promulgation is effected by publication in newspapers.
[i] Gragg v. Dudley, 143 Okla. 281, 284 (Okla. 1930).
[ii] Gragg v. Dudley, 143 Okla. 281, 284 (Okla. 1930).
[iii] State ex rel. Zink v. Hoggatt, 200 Ind. 338, 342 (Ind. 1928).
[iv] Grossglaus v. Board of Elections, 85 Ohio App. 134 (Ohio Ct. App., Stark County 1949).
[v] State v. Bd. of Elections of Summit County, 1980 Ohio App. LEXIS 11102 (Ohio Ct. App., Summit County Aug. 13, 1980).
[vi] Ledwell v. Proctor, 221 N.C. 161, 164 (N.C. 1942).
[vii] People ex rel. Woods v. Green, 265 Ill. 39 (Ill. 1914).
[viii] Brown v. Democratic Parish Committee, 183 La. 967 (La. 1935).
[ix] Austin v. Dupre, 328 So. 2d 406, 409 (La.App. 3 Cir. 1976).