Two houses certify presidential election results
The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed.
– Art. II, Sec. 1, U.S. Constitution
This past week, the 2004 election cycle was brought to an official conclusion when the two houses of Congress met in joint session to certify the results of the presidential election.
In the weeks since Nov. 2, the secretaries of state and election boards from the 50 states met to certify their individual results and select electors for either President Bush or Sen. Kerry. Even with the recounts demanded in Ohio and other areas, the process was brought to a swift conclusion - a far cry from the 36 days of drama following Election Day 2000.
Several members of the House did raise objections to the election process in Ohio, causing a two-hour delay in the proceedings. This marked only the second time since 1877 that a joint session called to tally the electoral votes was forced to disband for debate in each individual chamber.
Notwithstanding this delay, I am pleased this year's election did not include the long run of court cases and lawsuits filed by both major parties four years ago. Without question, it is in the best interests of the country and of our democratic form of government to recognize that the people have spoken and move on to tackling the issues still facing us.
The certification of the electoral votes by Congress is also part of a system that is somewhat foreign to many Americans. While many people have heard of the Electoral College, I think it would be timely - based on recent events - to provide some background on how the electoral process works.
History and function of the Electoral College
During the drafting of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, the attendees at the constitutional convention debated several methods by which electors for presidential elections would be chosen. After much deliberation, the current method was devised in which the total number of electors for each state is equal to the total number of members of their congressional delegation (congressmen and senators).
The size of state delegations can potentially be impacted every ten years by the redrawing of district lines (known as redistricting) that follows the completion of the national census. At present, Alabama has nine electors, one for each senator and member of the House, resulting from the most recent census taken in 2000. This number will remain unchanged for the next presidential election, but the census scheduled for 2010 could potentially impact the size of the delegations in each state.
Currently, 48 states (including Alabama) and the District of Columbia use one of two systems in place for the selection of presidential electors. This process is known as the general ticket system, or by its more popular title of the winner-take-all system. In this system, each political party or group who qualifies for placement on the election ballot nominates a slate of elector-candidates that equals the state's total number of electors.
The names of individual electors do not appear on the ballot; rather, the names of individual presidential candidates are placed on the ballot. The candidate (and through him or her, the slate of elector-candidates) receiving the highest percentage of the popular vote receives all the state's electoral votes. Under this system, President Bush received all nine of the electoral votes from Alabama.
Two states, Maine and Nebraska, use a system by which electoral votes are awarded to candidates based on their performance statewide, as well as within each of that state's congressional districts. As an example, a candidate who won the popular vote throughout Alabama but only received a majority in four of the seven congressional districts would have received only six of the nine votes.
The 12th Amendment to the Constitution requires that each state's electors then convene in the state capital to formally cast their ballots for president and vice president. The results from each of these elections are then enlarged and forwarded to the Vice President of the United States (in his capacity as the President of the Senate), the Archivist of the United States, and the federal district court of each district in which the state electors meet. A joint session of Congress is then held to formally tally the electoral votes, thus bringing the process to a close.
At this point, the members of the House and Senate from both sides of the aisle can return to their work - always with the best interests of their constituencies in mind - and begin laying out their agenda for the coming session of Congress.
My staff and I work for the people of south Alabama. Let us know when we can be of service.
Jo Bonner represents the people of this area in the U.S. H ouse of Representatives.