President Barack Obama was officially re-elected on Friday with the tallying of the Electoral College vote during a joint session of Congress.
As expected, Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. won 332 electoral votes, exceeding the 270 necessary for a majority of the 538 votes. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., won 206 votes.
The quadrennial occasion is constitutionally mandated to certify the presidential election. But it’s largely a formality, and the only surprise may have been the scant number of members of the House and Senate who witnessed it — far fewer than four years ago, when Obama was set to become the country’s first African-American president.
About a half-dozen senators processed into a relatively empty House chamber behind Biden, who in his duty as Senate president gaveled in the joint session and kicked off the vote counting, which took less than 30 minutes.
Four tellers — the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Rules and House Administration committees — took turns reading each state’s vote count. The certificates of vote were mailed from each state and opened on the House floor before being handed to a teller.
“The certificate of the electoral vote of the state of Alabama seems to be regular in form and authentic,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said to kick off the count, before announcing that Romney and Ryan had won nine electoral votes there.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. and Reps. Robert A. Brady, D-Pa., and Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., joined Schumer in reading the same sentence for the remaining 49 states and Washington, D.C., which has 3 electoral votes. A state's electoral votes are calculated by adding two (for its two Senate seats) to the number of House seats it has.
The election hasn’t been in doubt since Nov. 6, when it took only a few hours from when the first polls closed on the East Coast for it become clear that Obama would be the fourth among the last five presidents to win re-election. Obama will be sworn in to a second term in office on Jan. 20.
The floor was sparse — those in attendance were predominantly members of leadership, wide-eyed freshmen and those whose districts are in the Washington metro area.
For those who were there, it was hard to miss the sense of exhaustion after the past two weeks frantic debate and dealmaking over the fiscal cliff and the mini-drama surrounding Thursday’s re-election of Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, as speaker. The most vibrant cheer came toward the end after it was announced that Obama had won Virginia’s 13 votes.
“Yes!” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., exclaimed while clapping.
After Biden gaveled the joint session closed, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., approached Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., as they walked off the floor, and the pair cordially embraced in front of cameras. Biden chatted with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman. The vice president was swarmed by several Democratic House members, some of whom requested his autograph.
Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., was one of the freshmen eager to get a firsthand look at the formality of American democracy.
“Today feels like a slice of history,” she said as she walked into the ceremony.
House veteran Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, shared a similar idealism. In the past, he watched the proceedings on a video feed, but he raced to the floor to catch the tail end of it this year.
“I really appreciate and respect the formality of it,” he said. “And it gives me a good feeling about our Constitution and about the construction of our constitutional republic and how it actually functions in the end.”
“It’s neat as can be,” he added.
Congress is mandated by law to meet at 1 p.m. on Jan. 6 after a presidential election to tally the electoral votes. Since that date falls on a Sunday this year, Congress passed a law to hold it on Friday instead. The slate of electors from each state is equal to the number of senators and representatives from each state.
The electors met Dec. 17 in every state capital to vote on the president and vice president, then recorded it on six certificates of vote. According to the Office of the Federal Register, those certificates were paired with a certificate of ascertainment, signed by the governor, and one set was mailed to the Capitol to be read and recorded on the House floor.