It's Really Official
Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 1:38PM
Rhodes Cook

In a lightly attended joint session of Congress last Friday (Jan. 4) that lasted less than 30 minutes, Barack Obama was officially reelected president of the United States for another four-year term. The reading of the certified electoral vote as cast in the 50 states and the District of Columbia in mid-December revealed the tally unchanged from Election Night, with 332 votes for Democrat Obama (and Vice President Joe Biden) and 206 for Republican Mitt Romney (and his running mate, Paul Ryan).  For the second straight election, there were no “faithless electors” breaking ranks to cast their ballot for a person other than their party’s presidential candidate (or to leave their ballot blank).

The quadrennial count of the electoral vote followed the posting earlier in the week of the certified popular vote from New York. It was the lone state that had not totally completed its official vote count by mid-December. Numbers posted then by Empire State election authorities were official as far as they went. But the New York totals released New Year’s eve included about 400,000 additional ballots, better than 300,000 of which were cast for Obama.

They, in turn, boosted Obama’s nationwide vote to 65.90 million, Romney’s to 60.93 million, and expanded the president’s margin of victory to 4.97-million votes. Translated into percentage points, Obama’s share of the popular vote ticked up to 51.1% with Romney’s slipping slightly to 47.2% - a margin of 3.9 points that should be the final spread. If history is a guide, several states may amend their vote in the weeks ahead, but further changes at this point in the overall tally are likely to be very incremental.

A Little Pomp and Ceremony

The announcement of the electoral votes did not make for “must see” TV, or even attract much of a crowd. The House visitors’ gallery was only about half full for the proceedings, while members of Congress were scattered around the floor in various states of attentiveness. Among the recognizable senators in attendance were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the newly elected independent senator from Maine, Angus King.

Among the more prominent representatives present besides Boehner were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee. Television coverage also caught a shot of Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s vice presidential candidate in 2012.

Yet while it was hardly riveting, this necessary formality that concludes the quadrennial presidential election process is an event that might make the “bucket list” of anyone with a long interest in U.S. elections.

The session was gaveled to order at 1 p.m. by House Speaker John Boehner, who quickly announced the arrival of Vice President Biden and members of the Senate. The small group entered through the center door at the back of the chamber, following staff members carrying two brown leather chests and three brass containers containing several dozen long blue boxes. The former held manila envelopes with the certified electoral vote from each state and the District of Columbia, while the latter contained letter openers that were used to open the manila envelopes.

Vice President Biden presided over the tally, which unfolded in alphabetical order. He received the sheet with each state’s electoral vote and passed it on to the senator or representative who actually read the vote.  There were four members who alternated doing so – Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), and Reps. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) and Robert Brady (D-Pa.). The four were the chairs and ranking members, respectively, of the committees in each chamber with jurisdiction over federal elections (Senate Rules and House Administration, respectively).

Each member followed a script that went basically as follows: “The certificate for the electoral vote from Alabama appears to be regular in form and authentic. It appears therefrom that nine votes are cast for Mitt Romney of Massachusetts for president and nine votes for Paul Ryan of Wisconsin for vice president.”

At the end of the tally, Biden announced the final vote that reelected both himself and President Obama. The joint session concluded with brief applause.  

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